European Borders May be Redrawn as Europe Embraces Nationalism

In the wake of the Paris attacks, Europe is being pulled in two directions at once. On the one hand is the rise of localist nationalism in the form of border closings, border fences, and Euroskepticism. On the other hand is the rise of renewed militarism as the French state calls for even more aggressive foreign policy from its European allies in the name of security. In some ways, these two trends appear to be at odds, but they are really just different expressions of nationalism.

European Countries Closing their Borders

Even before the Paris attacks, the European Union faced rising skepticism and opposition over its immigration policies. Writing in the UK Independent, John Lichfield noted that

North vs south; east vs west; Britain vs the rest; German leadership or German dominance. The refugee crisis is like a diabolical stress test devised to expose simultaneously all the moral and political fault lines of the European Union.

As the wealthier (and therefore more politically powerful) nations of western Europe handed down edicts as to how migrants shall be spread around Europe, some of the less powerful nations revolted and began to refuse migrants.

Meanwhile, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and Macedonia all began building walls to keep out migrants. Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania have all threatened to do the same.

Late last month, Polish voters elected a new Euroskeptic, anti-immigration government that has pledged to renew opposition to Brussels’ diktats on immigration and national borders.

And then, in the wake of Paris came an even bigger blow to the Europhile plans for a borderless Europe. France, a longtime leader in the European Commission’s efforts to force migrants throughout Europe — called for a suspension of the Schengen Area, the “borderless” zone in Europe through which travelers and migrants may move unimpeded.

In practice, the Schengen Area had shown serious strain even before the Paris attacks occurred. In addition to Eastern European resistance, Sweden introduced border checks in early November. Finland, in response to neighboring Sweden’s policy of accepting large numbers of migrants, began border checks of its own.

In response to France’s request, in an effort to save at least a remnant of Schengen, the Dutch delegation has suggested a “mini-Schengen.” Recognizing that a geographically unified Europe has long been a key component of the plan to build a European megastate, some in Europe are seeing benefits in a reduced version of Schengen, even if it means, as the Daily Mail reports, “kicking out” several members, including Spain, Italy, and Greece. Most of the current Schengen EU members from eastern Europe would be excluded as well, including Poland and Hungary.

Many European elites continue to express confidence in the current expansive version of Schengen, and claim that any changes will be temporary. Clearly, however, any pull back in Schengen is a sign of political weakness on the part of Europhiles, and is a significant step backward in terms of the political unification of Europe. How long before a Mini-Schengen is followed by a “Mini-European Monetary Union” with roughly the same borders?

If Brussels decides that Spain and Italy are not integral to Europe’s core in regards to Schengen, what’s to prevent a similar conversation when the next sovereign debt crisis rears its head in southern Europe?

In fact, any move toward a Mini-Schengen may prove what the smaller countries of eastern Europe have been claiming all along: it’s rich, western Europe versus everybody else.

But rich, western Europe isn’t immune to the localist, nationalist tide either. The Paris attacks have given new voice to nationalist parties in Germany and Europe, and the attacks have further aided France’s nationalist parties and their chief spokeswoman, Marine LePen. Also, dissenters from the Europhile line have been calling for border closings with renewed vigor in Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.

A lack of confidence in the European Commission appears to be spreading, and is weakest outside the core of the wealthy west. Even within the “core,” though, political unification of Europe is facing some of the strongest headwinds it has seen in decades.

Western Europe Looks to Increased Militarism

While Europe may be fracturing on domestic affairs, there are few signs of a European willingness to abandon its aggressive military stance in regard to Russia, Africa, the Middle East, and the world in general.

Europhiles have dreamed for years of creating a unified “EU army,” and thanks to the Paris attacks, things are looking up. In the wake of the attacks, according to the UK’s Express, French President Hollande “invoked Article 42.7 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which states that if a member state ‘is the victim of armed aggression on its territory’ then the 27 other member states are obliged to provide aid and assistance ‘by all the means in their power’.”

This is being played up as a turn away from NATO, but that is only partly true. France, especially, has longed for a way to draw upon the military resources of its allies while not having to submit to the NATO bureaucracy.

This goes back at least to the 1960s when de Gaulle failed to get NATO help putting down rebellions in France’s colonies. In response, de Gaulle expelled NATO troops from French soil, built up France’s nuclear stockpiles, and removed France from NATO’s central command structure.

Always committed to aggressively and militarily exploiting its former colonies in Africa and the Middle East, the French state may have finally found the opportunity it needs to create an international military organization that can be dominated by France.

After all, when we’re talking about a possible European military, what we’re really talking about is a French-British-German military, with some token participation from other smaller countries. The UK, France, and Germany are among the world’s biggest spenders on military hardware, and it would be much easier for the French government to wield out-sized influence among only a handful of European governments, than within NATO.

So don’t be fooled. The Telegraph may be claiming that NATO was “shunned” at a recent meeting of European states, but Europe has no intention of abandoning NATO any time soon.

Europe has long freeloaded off the American taxpayer via NATO to ensure the global status quo for European elites, keep the European welfare states humming, and ensure that Europe need not worry about any unwanted diplomatic or military influence from Russia or China.

NATO’s war in Libya, for example, rather conveniently helped reduce Chinese influence which had been rising in North Africa at the expense of French and Italian interests.

Similarly, NATO’s presence helps ensure that European powers (and the Americans) can continue to antagonize the Russians without having to worry about any serious reprisals. In the case of any real conflict, the American taxpayers will pick up most of the tab.

Nevertheless, from the European point of view, a Euro Army offers a chance at renewed international influence for European states. If the Europeans can go their own way in “destroying ISIS,” Europe may be able to carve out its own sphere of influence in the oil-rich region, separate from those of the Americans and Russians.

European Union: Getting Smaller before it Gets Bigger?

The borders of Europe are indeed being redrawn. But, it would be premature to declare the project of European unity imperiled. Rather than full dissolution, it seems we’re more likely to see the EU retreat to its wealthier core in northern and western Europe. The newly expelled southern and eastern European countries would serve as buffer zones for migrants while allowing more freedom for the former “Great Powers” (i.e., UK, Germany, and France) to re-assert themselves as global players under the pretense of anti-terrorism.

Australia Considers Paperless Passports Based on Fingerprints, Face Recognition, Eye Scans; We Know Who You Are!

Australia, New Zealand Consider Paperless Passports

In the wake of fake passports and people smuggling in the EU refugee crisis, here’s a potential solution from Australia: The Cloud Could Soon Let Aussies Travel Without a Passport.

Australians could soon leave their old paper passports at home if a new proposal endorsed by Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop goes ahead.

The digital passport would include identity and biometrics data, according to the outlet, meaning Australians could easily be recognised at the border without showing any documents.

“We’re in discussions with New Zealand and if we’re able to put in place the appropriate requirements, including security, then it’s something we’d like to trial and implement,” Bishop told the media on Thursday.

She also advised new technologies could assist in making passports even more secure. “Australia prides itself on having one of the most secure passports in the world, but by embracing and harnessing new technologies, we might be able to do better,” she said.

Australians currently have access to ePassports, which have been issued since 2005. An ePassport contains a chip storing information about the passport holder such as their photo, name, sex and passport number. Combined with Australia’s SmartGate technology in many local airports, it allows people to enter the county without speaking to a customs officer after a machine compares a live image of the traveller with the one stored on the passport.

It’s unclear at this point how the government would address concerns about hacking and privacy breaches that are an unfortunate byproduct of any type of cloud storage. Whether the photos or biometrics of Australian citizens could be stored by foreign customs agencies, or even passed onto foreign law enforcement, is also an issue that would have to be addressed.

The use of images culled from passports and drivers licenses for purposes beyond their original intention is already a matter of debate in Australia. In September, the government announced it would be spending A$18.5 million (US$13.1 million) on the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability. This program allows agencies and law enforcement around the country to examine millions of photographs of Australians held in existing databases to put “a name to the face” of criminal suspects.

We Know Who You Are!

Link if video does not play: Scene from Goodfellas.

Cloud Passports Coming

Lost passports would become a thing of the past under a cloud system. But do you trust the government or the cloud as a safe-keeper of your personal data?

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop admitted security standards would have to be met to store personal information in the cloud, but hopes the idea could go global.

Absolute Security?

Australians are assured of “Absolute Security” reports SBS News.

The risk of impersonation via copy of facial features, fingerprints, and eye data seems remote, but a hacker who modified stored data could cause a traveler to be locked out of returning home.

Total Tracking

Most importantly, the government will know who you are, where you have been, when you were there, and how much you spent, etc., no matter where you are, once all tracking mechanisms are fully in place.

Like it or not, it’s pretty clear such systems are coming.

Exposed – The Clinton Foundation is Running a $20 Million Private Equity Firm in Colombia

Exposed – The Clinton Foundation is Running a $20 Million Private Equity Firm in Colombia

The Clinton Foundation is operating a $20 million private equity firm in Colombia, raising concerns from government and consumer watchdog groups who say the practice is unusual and could pose a significant conflict of interest.

The line between the firm and the Clinton’s nonprofit world is hazy. Fondo Acceso is run out of the Clinton Foundation’s Bogota office and staffed by foundation employees, a representative at the office told the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday.

A charitable foundation running a private equity fund is “not something one hears about commonly” and is “very concerning,” according to Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist at the watchdog group Public Citizen.

Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group, said the lack of transparency was a troubling. He said the public has a right to know whether any of Fondo Acceso’s companies received U.S. government support while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

– From The Washington Free Beacon article: Clinton Foundation Running Private Equity Fund in Colombia

The ties between the Clinton Foundation, Canadian billionaire businessman Frank Giustra and the nation of Colombia run deep. This is a topic I explored earlier in the year in the post, This is How Hillary Does Business – An Oil Company, Human Rights Abuses in Colombia and the Clinton Foundation. Here’s an excerpt:

The details of these financial dealings remain murky, but this much is clear: After millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation — supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself — Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact. Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, she now promoted it, calling it “strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.” The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra.

The details of her family’s entanglements in Colombia echo talk that the Clintons have blurred the lines between their private business and philanthropic interests and those of the nation. And Hillary Clinton’s connections to Pacific Rubiales and Giustra intensify recent questions about whether big donations influenced her decisions as secretary of state.

That was then. This is now.

From The Washington Free Beacon:

The Clinton Foundation is operating a $20 million private equity firm in Colombia, raising concerns from government and consumer watchdog groups who say the practice is unusual and could pose a significant conflict of interest.

The line between the firm and the Clinton’s nonprofit world is hazy. Fondo Acceso is run out of the Clinton Foundation’s Bogota office and staffed by foundation employees, a representative at the office told the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday.

The firm is managed by Carolina Botero, who is also chief financial officer at the Clinton-Giustra Enterprise Partnership. It lists various Clinton Foundation and CGEP officials as directors in its corporate filings. The Clinton Foundation’s tax returns list Fondo Acceso as a related corporation in which the foundation holds a 50 percent stake.

Colombian companies that want to apply for venture funding from the Fondo Acceso must also sign a contract turning over financial and internal information to both the private equity firm and the Clinton Foundation.

Fondo Acceso’s financial entanglements are also unclear. Vanessa Jimenez, chief administrator at the Clinton Foundation’s Bogota office, answered the phone number listed for the private equity fund on Tuesday. She said she was not allowed to talk about Fondo Acceso’s investments.

Jimenez said Fondo Acceso was based out of the office, but employees there technically worked for the Clinton Foundation.

“[Fondo Acceso] does not have any employees,” she said. “Nobody is hired by Acceso. … In Colombia, we work for the company, but only the Clinton Foundation is our employer.”

Jimenez directed questions to Fondo Acceso’s legal representative Monica Varela, who is also a Clinton Foundation official. Varela did not respond to request for comment.

CGEP is a Canadian organization founded by Clinton and Giustra. The group contracts its economic development projects to the Clinton Foundation and does not disclose its donors.

The presentation said Fondo Acceso was looking to invest in local companies in the agriculture, production, and labor industries with “high growth potential” that had annual sales between $500,000 and $10 million. In exchange for financing, the firm would become a shareholder in the companies.

A charitable foundation running a private equity fund is “not something one hears about commonly” and is “very concerning,” according to Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist at the watchdog group Public Citizen.

“Private equity firms invest and take over various companies as social services for a period of time and its intent and its purpose is to provide a reasonable return for shareholders,” said Holman. “If you’ve got a tax-free foundation getting involved in running a private equity firm, I just find that very troubling.”

Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group, said the lack of transparency was a troubling. He said the public has a right to know whether any of Fondo Acceso’s companies received U.S. government support while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Let me guess. She did it to fight terrorists. Or due to her undying love for America. Or because 9/11.

Blowback: The Washington War Party’s Folly Comes Home to Roost

Exactly 26 years ago last week, peace was breaking out in a manner that the world had not experienced since June 1914. The Berlin Wall—the symbol of a century of state tyranny, grotesque mass warfare, and the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over the planet—had come tumbling down on November 9, 1989.

It was only a matter of time before the economically decrepit Soviet regime would be no more, and that the world’s vast arsenal of weapons and nuclear bombs could be dismantled. Continue reading “Blowback: The Washington War Party’s Folly Comes Home to Roost”

Why Bored People and Volunteers Must Be Free To Work for Low Wages

What is the least you would be willing to be paid to verify business addresses or phone numbers for a database? If you had a large online inventory and wanted simple word tags to describe each one of your products for search engine optimization, how much would you be willing to pay somebody to trudge through your product images and generate tags?

Tasks like these still require human labor, but a voluntary wage for such tasks is usually very low, especially relative to legislated minimum wages.

Despite exponential growth in computing power and capabilities over the past few decades, computers still struggle with simple tasks like identifying objects in a picture, making qualitative judgments, and confirming the accuracy of language translations. Amazon embraced this fact and connected those that need these Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) performed with the humans willing to do them.

The service is called Amazon Mechanical Turk, after the fake chess-playing machine constructed in 1770. It was just a real, human chess master playing from inside a box. Back then, no such artificial computing capabilities existed, mechanical or otherwise. Like the “machine,” Amazon Mechanical Turk involves humans doing the work, even if the task seems suited for computers.

A company with a large catalog might want to find and eliminate duplicate listings, but the items’ pictures and descriptions might be a little different, making computers unqualified for the job. “Turkers” may also fill out surveys for marketing information, social science research, or really anything the task creator wants to ask a large number of people. Audio and video transcriptions are common, too.

Submissions are judged by having multiple people perform the same task. If their submissions are the same or very similar, the task requester can assume that they are really working on the task and not just filling in random text to complete tasks.

Below is an example of a HIT that asks people to pull information from pictures of receipts. If three people perform this HIT and two of the responses for the business address city are “Lincoln Park,” but one of the responses is “a;sldkfj,” the first two would be paid and not the third. Having more than one submission per HIT is more costly, but the task requesters get more accurate responses this way.

Today, there are more than 500,000 workers and around 200,000 HITs listed. Most tasks will earn the worker just a few cents, but some workers have been able to make a living from the service. As a member satisfactorily completes the simpler but lower-paying HITs, they are granted access to the higher-paying ones. A dedicated few make thousands of dollars a month by working full time. Others make a few extra hundred dollars a month by doing HITs after their regular job.

A recent study found that almost half of the MTurk workers performed tasks while at their primary job: “For example, a cab driver at the airport may answer survey questions while waiting for a fare. A teacher or office worker could MTurk during lunch break.”

Many enjoy doing the tasks as a form of relaxation and social engagement. Although the tasks seem incredibly boring to me, some find it an escape from boredom. Through turker-only forums, they have built a large, thriving community. They direct their fellow turkers to fun and high-paying HITs and help them steer clear of tasks posted by those who might fraudulently withhold payment for a completed task. Hayek would be impressed.

Minimum-Wage Activists Strike Again

The most common hourly rate for working on HITs is about $1. As such, minimum wage proponents have railed against Amazon Mechanical Turk, calling it modern day slavery. They see people having fun and voluntarily exchanging pennies for simple tasks and want it abolished. Bored people should just stay bored.

What would they say is an appropriate price for asking somebody to select what color a shirt is in a picture? How much should they charge for filling out their age, sex, and favorite ice cream flavor in a survey?

The correct answer, of course, is whatever the two parties agree on. Workers can scroll through hundreds of thousands of HITs and decide for themselves which ones are worth the payment, which is listed with each HIT. If something looks too long and complicated for the advertised payment, they can simply pass on it. The workers have complete control over which tasks they perform, what hours they work, and, of course, whether they are signed up to be an Amazon Mechanical Turk worker at all!

In the early days of Amazon Mechanical Turk, Salon ran an article on it that read like an exposé of a cult or a crime ring. They found a man who does HITs for fun and made him out to be an unknowing slave to evil corporate interests:

Curtis Taylor, 50, a corporate trainer in Clarksville, Ind., who has earned more than $345 on, doesn’t even think of turking as work. To him, it’s a way to kill time. “I’m not in it to make money, I’m in it to goof off,” he says. Taylor travels a lot for business and finds himself sitting around in hotel rooms at night. He doesn’t like to watch TV much, and says that turking beats playing free online poker. To him, it’s “mad money,” which he blows buying gifts on Amazon, like Bill Bennett’s “America, the Last Best Hope,” for his son, a junior in high school. “If I ever stop being entertained, I’ll stop doing it,” he says. “I’ll just quit.”

Yet what’s a happy diversion for Taylor is serious business for the companies on Amazon Mechanical Turk.

It turns out that there is a market for bored people. Prices emerge to pull them out of their boredom by working on simple tasks.

There are other ways people with extra time on their hands can provide labor services for low or even no pay. Certainly minimum wage proponents wouldn’t condemn volunteering for charities like homeless shelters, soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity, disease awareness/cure campaigns, etc. Yet, what non-arbitrary feature distinguishes this sort of work from other lines of work that might offer a wage lower than any proposed minimum wage?

Not All Value Is Expressed in Dollars

In all voluntary arrangements, both the worker and the employer agree to a mutually beneficial wage, which sometimes means $0/hour. Even if nothing tangible is trading hands, it doesn’t mean that volunteers get nothing out of their work. Their “payment” is knowing they did something nice for free. It’s not really a wage or a payment in the economic sense, though, because the employer doesn’t lose this good feeling, like they would forgo money wages for paid work. In fact, volunteering labor like this is more appropriately considered a gift, not an exchange of labor for a wage.

When individuals make a choice, they aren’t just exchanging goods for goods or services for money, but they are making choices over alternative states of the world.

A potential volunteer isn’t weighing $0 against time working for some charity, they are weighing all the consequences of helping a charity versus not helping, including the subjective feelings they have for the cause and the knowledge that they had a hand in its well-meaning goals.

Likewise, a turker only agrees to a $0.01 HIT if the task looks easy or fun enough. They weigh the prospect of doing the task and receiving one penny versus missing out on the fun and not receiving the penny. Again, “fun” is also subjective. Most of the tasks look downright boring to me.

Whether a job requires intense effort and a specialized skill or just having a human brain, market prices are the only way to match people that want to do the job with the people that want the job done. Even $0/hour is sometimes voluntarily chosen by a worker who simply wants to help a certain cause. Mandated minimum wages eliminate these kinds of peaceful and productive arrangements, leaving both parties unsatisfied and society worse off.

White “Privilege” Has Nothing on State Privilege

Cultural Marxism enjoyed a victory last week when University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned after members of the Missouri Tigers football team joined a student movement calling for his resignation. While I fully support the rights of these players to leverage their athletic ability to advocate a cause — as I would support their university if it decided to pull their scholarship — what is concerning is the actual list of demands shared by the cause they joined.

The top priority of the #ConcernedStudent1950 movement was not the resignation of University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe, but that he “must acknowledge his white male privilege.” While I have little sympathy for Mr. Wolfe — I agree with Lew Rockwell when he says, “Virtually all university administrators deserve what’s in store for them, especially since they’ve promoted it” — the members of #ConcernedStudent1950 would do well to understand that Mr. Wolfe’s sin was not his skin color or his gender, but his position with the state.

After all, as president of Missouri’s state university system, Tim Wolfe was complicit in the systemic fraud of modern academia. He personally profited from the tens of thousands of dollars students spend at these state institutions in exchange for increasingly worthless degrees and leftist indoctrination. The regular typos and basic grammatical mistakes by what purports to be the official Twitter account of #ConcernedStudent1950 offers amusing evidence of how poorly served students are in today’s universities.

But to explore this further, let’s first look at how the left defines the concept of “privilege.”

According to the website of the White Privilege Conference, “Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do.” By this definition, it is clear that there is no greater privilege than that afforded to the state.

Examples of this are plentiful and wide ranging. From the failure to prosecute police officers when their criminal negligence leads to a man’s death, to the immunity granted to the EPA for their pollution of the Animas River, to the US government’s role in arming terrorist groups — government officials regularly engage in behavior that would land anyone without a badge behind bars.

While it’s true that over the course of American history, white straight men have largely enjoyed the benefits of power — the power of state privilege has proven to trump any other factor. Consider that a black man is regularly responsible for the death of innocent men, women, and children and will, like his predecessor, never face punishment for his actions. Or that a powerful gay congressman managed to avoid charges for a brothel that was operating from his home. Or that Hillary Clinton is running for president.

Of course, there are perks to power that go beyond a get out of jail free card. Be it expensive (taxpayer-funded) vacations, or (taxpayer-funded) office spaces upon retirement, or simply blatant nepotism — state privilege is the easiest way to become a “garbage rich person.”

A historical argument for collectivist white guilt is also absurd. After all, the evil institution of slavery existed throughout the world, regardless of skin color. While it is unfortunately true that white Americans fought to protect slavery’s existence in America, it’s equally true that the abolitionist movement in this country was founded by white Quakers. Slavery existed for as long as it did, not out of widespread racial agreement among whites — but due to the design of those in Federal government. Yet we still have the progressive “academics” attempt to explain to decedents of Irish immigrant the privileges enjoyed by their ancestors. I can’t help but wonder if a member of #ConcernedStudent1950 thinks Michelle Obama has it worse off in today’s world than the white wife of a West Virginia coal miner?

Unfortunately, the emphasis on skin color, gender, sexuality, and other biological factors rather than government power is intentional. The interest of those who scream “white privilege” is rarely ever about social injustice and almost always about censorship and power. The progressive left knows that the best way to pursue its agenda is by demonization and division, and they have been widely successful in this regard. This is why you’ll see Thomas Jefferson dismissed in public schools as a racist slave owner, yet see FDR championed as a great man of history.

Ludwig von Mises understood that the superficial obsession with race dangerously overlooks the fundamental importance of ideas. This is why he wrote that “it is not mankind, the state, or the corporative unit that acts, but individual men and groups of men, and that their valuations and their actions are decisive, not those of abstract collectives.” The idea that the Jewish Mises would be asked to check his own “white privilege” should be obviously absurd considering he was forced to flee his home due to Aryans obsessed with an ideology that saw him as racially inferior.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the left’s successful tactics of divide and conquer is the devastating consequences it has had on the very communities progressives claim they want to help. Thomas Sowell has brilliantly documented the human toil of the progressive state. Regardless of their true intentions, those who advocate for greater state intervention in our lives actively encourage the greatest threat to societal harmony in the world today.

Now that Peter Klein has left Mizzou for Baylor University, I won’t be much affected even if #ConcernedStudents1950 manage to burn the University of Missouri to the ground — but doing so won’t improve their lives.

A brighter tomorrow will only come when people realize that no matter your race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or religion — the state is the gravest threat to all those who don’t enjoy its privilege.

U.S. Government Takes 10 Years and Spends $1 Billion to Digitize a Single Form

U.S. Government Takes 10 Years and Spends $1 Billion to Digitize a Single Form

Heaving under mountains of paperwork, the government has spent more than $1 billion trying to replace its antiquated approach to managing immigration with a system of digitized records, online applications and a full suite of nearly 100 electronic forms.

A decade in, all that officials have to show for the effort is a single form that’s now available for online applications and a single type of fee that immigrants pay electronically. The 94 other forms can be filed only with paper. 

From the start, the initiative was mismanaged, the records and interviews show. Agency officials did not complete the basic plans for the computer system until nearly three years after the initial $500 million contract had been awarded to IBM, and the approach to adopting the technology was outdated before work on it began.

By 2012, officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes USCIS, were aware that the project was riddled with hundreds of critical software and other defects. But the agency nonetheless began to roll it out, in part because of pressure from Obama administration officials who considered it vital for their plans to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies, according to the internal documents and interviews.

– From the Washington Post article: A Decade Into a Project to Digitize U.S. Immigration Forms, Just 1 is Online  

Another day, another example of almost incomprehensible government incompetence and waste.

Just yesterday, I highlighted how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) paid out $142 million in cash bonuses to employees immediately after the scandal that led to the death of at least 23 veterans waiting for care. It was just the latest example of how government bureaucrats are not only above the law, but are often actually rewarded for criminal incompetence.

Today’s article actually makes yesterday’s piece look minor in comparison. You can’t make this stuff up.

From the Washington Post:

Open Borders Are an Assault on Private Property

This talk was delivered at the Mises Circle in Phoenix, AZ, on November 7, 2015.

Whether we’re talking about illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America, or birthright citizenship, or the migrants coming from the Middle East and Africa, the subject of immigration has been in the news and widely discussed for months now. It is an issue fraught with potentially perilous consequences, so it is especially important for libertarians to understand it correctly.

This Mises Circle, which is devoted to a consideration of where we ought to go from here, seems like an opportune moment to take up this momentous question. Continue reading “Open Borders Are an Assault on Private Property”

Luxury London Real Estate Prices Plunge 11.5% Year-Over-Year

Luxury London Real Estate Prices Plunge 11.5% Year-Over-Year

Two months ago I published a piece titled, Luxury London Home Sales Plunge 26% – Has this Mega Real Estate Bubble Finally Burst?. I wrote:

It appears the music may have finally stopped for one of the world’s largest luxury real estate bubbles: London.

It’s well known that foreign oligarchs love London real estate as a means to launder funds, typically “earned” by soaking their host countries dry via corruption and fraud. This has caused absurd and irrational spikes in high-end residential real estate in the English capital, as well as a flood of new construction.

With emerging markets now completely collapsing, the seemingly endless flood of foreign money is drying up, and with it, London real estate.

So has the London real estate bubble popped? Probably.

Now we see the following from Bloomberg:

Pope Francis Contradicts Himself on Religious Liberty and Capitalism

While visiting the White House on his first day in the United States this year, Pope Francis made a strong plea on behalf of religious liberty, which he pointedly directed at President Obama. This came shortly before he made an unscheduled visit with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are suing the Obama administration over their own right not to include artificial contraception as part of their health insurance plan, which is mandated by Obamacare regulations. Catholic teaching views the use of artificial contraception as sinful. The connection between his comments to the president and his visit with the Little Sisters was apparent.

This laudable and welcome stance comes from a Pope who has, out of a concern for the poor, famously made several misguided statements that are quite critical of capitalism. Combined, these two positions, while seemingly unrelated, represent a profound contradiction in the Pope’s thinking.

In reality, the only socio-economic arrangement that guarantees the rights of all people to exercise their religious beliefs freely is free market capitalism, which emphasizes the rights of people to own and use property as they wish and to contract freely with others on any mutually agreeable terms.

It is a system that is based strictly on voluntary cooperation and that de-legitimizes the use of force and fraud. (As an aside, I personally think that, for this reason, it is the system most consistent with Christianity.) Under such institutional arrangements, there would be no need for specific legal or constitutional protections for religious liberty. These liberties are inherent in the system itself.

Consider, for example, the contraception mandate that is being challenged by the Little Sisters of the Poor. This directly conflicts with one of the most basic rights under capitalism: the right to trade and make contracts freely with others.

Under laissez-faire, or as some are calling it, “unfettered” capitalism, what is covered by any health insurance policy purchased by the Little Sisters of the Poor would be a private matter among the Little Sisters, their insurance company, and possibly any employees who would also be covered under the plan.

If the health insurance plan that was being offered by the insurance company was unacceptable to the Little Sisters, for whatever reason, they would be free to walk away from it or negotiate different coverage with the insurance company. And if the health insurance offered by the Little Sisters to any of their employees were an unacceptable part of their compensation package, they too would be free to walk away and find employment elsewhere or forgo the employer-provided insurance and purchase a separate plan of their own choosing. This might occur as part of an exchange with the Little Sisters, their employers, for a higher wage. All of this would happen without a need for any specific discussion about religious liberty. The Little Sister’s religious freedom and their freedom to make mutually agreeable contracts are one in the same.

Beyond this the right to worship as one chooses would be pretty hollow without the right to own or contract for the rental of physical property. The right to worship implies the right of a religious organization to have physical space to assemble and to worship in that space as they see fit. Without this fundamental property right, which is only guaranteed without question under capitalism, the right to worship freely as one chooses is tentative at best and nonexistent at worst.

The right to deny religious liberties stems from the power of government to deny the right to use property freely. When the USSR wanted to shut down the Catholic Church in Ukraine it confiscated its property, i.e., the churches. The Soviets understood quite well that the right to freely worship was the right to freely own.

This does not end with religious liberties. Indeed, property rights and free exchange are at the heart of one’s ability to exercise civil liberties more generally. The right to freedom of speech and press and the rights to freely assemble, protest, boycott, etc., are all automatically guaranteed under capitalism.

This is because capitalism guarantees our right to disagree with one another, which is really what is being protected when all of these liberties are recognized. In this regard it would be useful for Pope Francis to pay attention to the words of a rather famous atheist, Ayn Rand, who noted that:

The right to agree with others is not a problem in any society; it is the right to disagree that is crucial. It is the institution of private property that protects and implements the right to disagree.

Holy Father, religious liberty is nothing more than the right to disagree.