Monthly Archives: May 2010

Who’s more dangerous: “illegal aliens” or “governments”?


Memorial Day Alternative – Butler Shaffer

Memorial Day Alternative

by Butler Shaffer


I have grown weary of the war-lovers taking over every holiday and exploiting them for their own deadly ambitions. Turning July 4th into a celebration of militaristic statism (see the old Bing Crosby musical Holiday Inn) was bad enough. But then seeing a Santa Claus in a flag-draped Uncle Sam suit on a Christmas card a couple years ago was simply too much.

Memorial Day is one holiday on which I often hold an “Anti-War Film Festival,” inviting a few friends – who, being friends of mine, have no need to be reminded of the evils of warfare – to watch what I consider the best of the films that bring war into disrepute. Instead of going out to a cemetery to join an “honor guard” gang to play taps and fire their rifles to celebrate the deaths of victims of warfare, I suggest such an anti-war film festival for your own consideration.

Some of the films I find most effective are the following (with the number of * [1–3] reflecting my opinion as to importance):

*** Joyeux Noel – a recent film depicting an actual pause in battle – on Christmas Eve – during World War I. French, German, and British soldiers met in a “no-man’s-land” to exchange candy and cigarettes, converse, and even play an abbreviated game of soccer.

*** The King of Heartsan Alan Bates film, set in World War I, in which a soldier, Bates, is sent into a French town to check things out, not being aware that the inhabitants had left the town, and residents of the local mental asylum had taken their places. Very good comedy.

** Paths of GloryA Kirk Douglas film. A general sends his men on a suicide mission. When the mission fails, a few soldiers are arbitrarily selected to be tried – and executed – for cowardice.

* M*A*S*H anyone not familiar with this comedic dark look at war – the Korean being the one in question – has probably been out in the desert too long.

*** Oh! What a Lovely Wara British musical comedy (it originated as a stage show) set in World War I. The ending scene, in particular, will bring tears to the eyes of those who abhor the systematic killing of people. One of my all-time favorites!

** Johnny Got His Guna Dalton Trumbo film, set in World War I, from the perspective of an all-but-dead wounded soldier. The darkest of the films I’m recommending.

* The Mouse That Roaredthe Peter Sellers classic about a European duchy that figures the best way out of its financial difficulties is to wage war on America, and then receive post-war foreign aid.

** All Quiet on the Western Frontwon the Oscar (1930) for best film and best director. A very good anti-war film – from the perspective of some young Germans. I particularly like it because it stars one of the few real heroes from Hollywood, Lew Ayres, who refused to be conscripted into the army during World War II, a decision that virtually ruined his Hollywood career.

While on the topic of “heroes,” I would exclude any and all war films by John Wayne who, more than anyone else, helped Hollywood glorify wartime butchery, even as he managed to keep himself out of the war. Sound like any presidents?

* Apocalypse Nowan excellent Vietnam war era film with dark and dark-side overtones.

** The Deer Huntera powerful, not for the squeamish, look at the Vietnam war. It won an Oscar (1978) for best picture, and for best supporting actor (Christopher Walken).

** Gallipolia film by one of my favorite directors, Peter Weir. It takes place in World War I, and does a moving job of showing the disillusionment of young men caught up in the ersatz “glory” of war.

*** Shenandoahthe best anti-war film with a consistent libertarian message. Jimmy Stewart plays a Virginia farmer – with a large family – who has no use for the Civil War and its intrusions upon his property. When I first sat through this film over 40 years ago, I kept waiting for Stewart to cave in and see the errors of his ways. He never does. Some wonderful lines that you’ll not soon forget. One of the very few films that later became a stage play. If you haven’t seen this one, where have you been?

** Catch-22the film adaptation of Joseph Heller’s treatment of the “normal” insanity of the war system, based on his own war-time experiences.

** Slaughterhouse-FiveKurt Vonnegut’s offering of the same basic theme of the normalcy of institutionalized insanity, from the perspective of a soldier. I once saw a lengthy interview (on C-SPAN, as I recall) of Heller and Vonnegut together. Vonnegut related a conversation he had had with a friend on a troop-ship coming back from Europe. Vonnegut asked his friend: “what did you learn from all of this?,” to which the other man replied: “never to believe your own government.”

** Dr. Strangeloveanother Peter Sellers offering that involves an Air Force general who decides to start a war with the Soviet Union. As with The Mouse That Roared, Sellers plays a number of roles. A film that ages well with time.

*** Wag the Dogfor those who reject, out of hand, the idea that political conspiracies exist – unless, of course, one is talking about conspiracies perpetrated by “bad guys” – this film may prove either troublesome or enlightening. In an age when the best way to satirize something is to make a factual report of same, this film of a contrived war engineered to enliven a presidential reelection campaign, has all the ring of a documentary. A “must” for any modern film festival.

** The Quiet American [2002 version] the adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel deals with the behind-the-scenes manipulations that led to America’s involvement in the Vietnam war. Don’t waste your time with the 1958 version, which treats Greene’s novel as a murder mystery, not a political intrigue.

*** Aftermath: The Remnants of Warone of the most powerful of all anti-war films, particularly since it doesn’t show any battle scenes. It is a documentary, produced by the Canadian Film Board, of the various messes that the war system leaves to the rest of mankind to deal with decades after the wars have ended (e.g., unexploded munitions from World Wars I and II that continue to kill French farmers each year).

*** The Americanization of EmilyI have saved my favorite anti-war film for last. This James Garner/Julie Andrews picture is quite good. The most powerful portion of it is the garden scene, in which Garner and Andrews are talking with Andrews’ mother about war. Garner’s impassioned soliloquy on the nature of war – with emphasis on the wives and mothers who keep the bloodbaths going by honoring them – packs more wallop than just about any other film. Garner ends up declaring that it will be cowards – such as himself – who will save the world.

*** Why We Fight. A powerful documentary – in which Karen Kwiatkowski, Chalmers Johnson, and Gore Vidal carry most of the intellectual load – on the nature and history of the post–World War II American war-making system. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. WARNING! Do not confuse this with the pro-war series of the same name, produced during World War II by one of my un-favorite directors, Frank Capra.

*** Children of Men. A futuristic film set in an Orwellian England, where endless wars against endless enemies have become the norm. Throughout the world, most women have become infertile, threatening the extinction of the human species. A woman has become pregnant, and most of the film is taken up with trying to get her to a country that would harbor her and her unborn child. This is a very dark and violent film – someone is always in the process of killing others, bombing buildings, etc. What is encouraging, however, is that none of the warring factions are presented as “good” guys fighting the “bad” guys. It is the anti-life nature of the war system itself – with mankind as the endangered species – that dominates the movie.

*** Breaker Morant. A couple readers couldn’t understand why I didn’t include this Australian film on my list. I must admit that I considered it but, perhaps because a similar theme had been presented in the Paths of Glory film I had recommended, I left it off the list. Upon reflection, I think the readers had better judgment than I on this one.

It is the story of Australian soldiers – during the Boer War – against whom phony murder charges are made in order to facilitate the political machinations of bringing the war to an end. It illustrates, quite well, how soldiers – treated by the state as nothing more than fungible resources for its exploitation – can be sacrificed both on and off the battlefield.

* Three Kings. Set in the first Gulf War, there is an abundance of the blood-bath that defines every war. What is of particular interest in this film, however, is the impact war has on the non-combatant refugees. A very nice ending from their perspective.

** Platoon and ** Full Metal Jacket. These are potent films providing a soldier’s perspective on the dehumanizing, life-destroying nature of war. As one who believes that the gore and broken bodies of those killed in wars should be regularly shown on television – so that the Sean Hannity’s, the Rush Limbaugh’s, the Bill O’Reilly’s, et al., can get a snootful of the system they so adore – these films provide a good secondary source. Platoon won an Oscar for “best film.”

* Lord of War. This movie deals more with the underbelly of post–Cold War arms-trafficking than with wars themselves (although there is plenty of blood-letting for any pro-war vampires). Pay attention to the credits following the film. They inform us that the five largest nations involved in selling arms to the rest of the world, are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council!

** A Very Long Engagement. Perhaps, as a motion picture production, this is artistically the best film of all I have recommended. While set in wartime (World War I), with plenty of battlefield insanity, it is essentially a love story involving a young woman intent on finding her fiancé – is he alive or dead? – after the war. There is also a very interesting character; a prostitute bent on revenge against corrupt military officers.

** The Battle of Algiers. A 1965 film done in a pseudo-documentary style, it dramatizes the decade-long struggle of Algerians against their French occupiers. This motion picture affords viewers insights into the current responses of Iraqis to their American occupiers.

** Duck Soup. The Marx Brothers slapstick assault on the war system, with Groucho – as Freedonia’s prime minister – declaring war on a neighboring country for no apparent reason. My favorite line in the film is when, in the course of battle, Groucho tells the others that they are fighting for (Margaret Dumont’s) “honor: which is probably more than she ever did.”

** Hearts and Minds. Won an Oscar for best documentary. It deals with the events and machinations that led to the Vietnam War. No clearer example of the hypocrisy of the United States’ alleged efforts to bring “freedom” to Southeast Asia is found than in the effort of the federal government to have this film formally censored so that Americans could not learn what their “representative” thugs had been up to.

** Grand Illusion. A 1937 film by director Jean Renoir. I saw this motion picture so many years ago that it simply slipped my mind in writing my first article. An anti-war film focusing on the futility of the war system. That the German government tried to destroy this film when it first came out, provides some evidence of its importance.

** Das Boot and ** Letters From Iwo Jima. Two films that address the horrors of warfare from the perspectives of those on the “other” side, the first Germans, the second Japanese. The latter is Clint Eastwood’s highly-praised picture.

There are a number of other films readers recommended, some of which I have seen, some I have not. These include The Lives of Others; Downfall; Kelly’s Heroes; The Ground Truth; Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers; When I Came Home; Come and See; No Man’s Land; Born on the Fourth of July; The Razor’s Edge (1984 version); Coming Home; and A Midnight Clear. The latter film was reviewed at length by Rick Gee.

There are two documentaries that have just recently appeared: from “Bill Moyers Journal” Buying the War. The other is titled SPIN: The Art of Selling War. They each examine the role of the media in helping the state promote its war efforts. I have seen the former film, but not the latter.

Should you decide to conduct your own Anti-War Film Festival this forthcoming Memorial Day weekend, you might be interested in including a recitation of one of the most powerful anti-war poems: Mark Twain’s The War Prayer.

May 16, 2007

Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.

Copyright © 2007, 2010 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

Going “Green” – John Stossel

Going “Green”
Separating environmental fact from fiction

John Stossel | May 27, 2010

I ride my bike to work. It seems so pure.

We’re constantly urged to “go green”—use less energy, shrink our carbon footprint, save the Earth. How? We should drive less, use ethanol, recycle plastic, and buy things with the government’s Energy Star label.

But what if much of going green is just bunk? Al Gore’s group, Repower America, claims we can replace all our dirty energy with clean, carbon-free renewables. Gore says we can do it within 10 years.

“It’s simply not possible,” says Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy. “Nine out of 10 units of power that we consume are produced by hydrocarbons—coal, oil and natural gas. Any transition away from those sources is going to be a decades-long, maybe even a century-long process. … The world consumes 200 million barrels of oil equivalent in hydrocarbons per day. We would have to find the energy equivalent of 23 Saudi Arabias.”

Bryce used to be a left-liberal, but then: “I educated myself about math and physics. I’m a liberal who was mugged by the laws of thermodynamics.”

Bryce mocked the “green” value of my riding my bike to work:

“Let’s assume you saved a gallon of oil in your commute (a generous assumption!). Global daily energy consumption is 9.5 billion gallons of oil equivalent. … So by biking to work, you save the equivalent of one drop in 10 gasoline tanker trucks. Put another way, it’s one pinch of salt in a 100-pound bag of potato chips.”

How about wind power?

“Wind does not replace oil. This is one of the great fallacies, and it’s one that the wind energy business continues to promote,” Bryce said.

The problem is that windmills cannot provide a constant source of electricity. Wind turbines only achieve 10 percent to 20 percent of their maximum capacity because sometimes the wind doesn’t blow.

“That means you have to keep conventional power plants up and running. You have to ramp them up to replace the power that disappears from wind turbines and ramp them down when power reappears.”

Yet the media rave about Denmark, which gets some power from wind. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says, “If only we could be as energy smart as Denmark.”

“Friedman doesn’t fundamentally understand what he’s talking about,” Bryce said.

Bryce’s book shows that Denmark uses eight times more coal and 25 times more oil than wind.

If wind and solar power were practical, entrepreneurs would invest in it. There would be no need for government to take money from taxpayers and give it to people pushing green products.

Even with subsidies, “renewable” energy today barely makes a dent on our energy needs.

Bryce points out that energy production from every solar panel and windmill in America is less than the production from one coal mine and much less than natural gas production from Oklahoma alone.

But what if we build more windmills?

“One nuclear power plant in Texas covers about 19 square miles, an area slightly smaller than Manhattan. To produce the same amount of power from wind turbines would require an area the size of Rhode Island. This is energy sprawl.” To produce the same amount of energy with ethanol, another “green” fuel, it would take 24 Rhode Islands to grow enough corn.

Maybe the electric car is the next big thing?

“Electric cars are the next big thing, and they always will be.”

There have been impressive headlines about electric cars from my brilliant colleagues in the media. The Washington Post said, “Prices on electric cars will continue to drop until they’re within reach of the average family.”

That was in 1915.

In 1959, The New York Times said, “Electric is the car of the tomorrow.”

In 1979, The Washington Post said, “GM has an electric car breakthrough in batteries, now makes them commercially practical.”

I’m still waiting.

“The problem is very simple,” Bryce said. “It’s not political will. It’s simple physics. Gasoline has 80 times the energy density of the best lithium ion batteries. There’s no conspiracy here of big oil or big auto. It’s a conspiracy of physics.”

John Stossel is host of Stossel on the Fox Business Network. He’s the author of Give Me a Break and of Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at


The World Economy Explained in 3 Minutes

Greeks queue to buy gold sovereigns for financial security in turbulent times

From: The Times

Greeks queue to buy gold sovereigns for financial security in turbulent times

* John Carr
* May 25, 2010 11:02AM

For weeks buyers have been queuing patiently in the central bank’s main downtown Athens office, prepared to shell out nearly €273 ($409) per piece, up from €243 at the start of May and €180 last July.

Persistent worries that Greece could default at least partly on its debts are emptying the Bank of Greece’s vaults of at least 700 gold coins a day, giving a whole new meaning to the term sovereign debt.

“The public’s renewed interest in sovereigns as an asset started with the collapse of Lehman Brothers,” the daily Kathimerini newspaper wrote.

Central bank officials estimate that while Greek demand for the distinctive bullion has been rising by 10 per cent a year since 2008, its price has been soaring by more than 50 per cent.

Greeks’ uncertainty about their future has manifested itself more dramatically in a series of strikes and riots.

The markets have been jittery, too, something unlikely to have been eased by remarks last night by Olivier Blanchard, chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, who said: “The markets are wondering if Greece will be able to repay its debt or not.

“Given the behaviour of Greek governments in the past, their uncertainties are understandable.”

Sovereigns remained legal tender amid an unstable drachma until 1965, when the Greek government placed restrictions on their trading.

Many hoarders cashed in their stocks, although street vendors near the Athens Stock Exchange continued to do a brisk trade in the coins.

The growing run on the bullion sovereign has spawned a thriving black market: in addition to about 50,000 sold legally by the Bank of Greece in the first four months of this year, officials estimate that at least 100,000 have changed hands on the black market at prices of up to €300.

Trading offers have invaded the Greek blogosphere, where buyers are sometimes confused at the variety of sovereigns on offer.

Some expect the head of George V, standard on most of the 1930s coins flown into wartime Greece. Others want Elizabeth II, whose likeness is on a batch of several million pounds’ worth of sovereigns that Greece bought in the 1970s.

Who Is Free to Discriminate?

From The Daily Bell:

Who Is Free to Discriminate?

Dr. Tibor Machan

Everyone who is awake discriminates – it is what people do with their minds, it’s the way they know the world, more or less well. The kind of discrimination that’s objectionable is when people use irrelevant attributes of others to classify them – like their race when hiring them for jobs where race is irrelevant. The race of a CPA has no bearing on the work of a CPA, so taking it into account in the hiring or promotion process is morally wrong, a kind of professional malpractice.

In a free country such discrimination may not be forbidden however offensive it is. No more than one may ban dirty talk or filthy movies or indeed any conduct that doesn’t violate anyone’s basic rights. (A legal right not to be discriminated against doesn’t amount to the same thing. Legal rights can be granted by government, independently of anyone’s basic natural rights, even opposed to them.)

In the US, however, some features of the civil rights law have made discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, etc., illegal for most people though by no means all. A clear case in point is that customers may indulge their racial and similar irrational prejudices with complete impunity.

If racists go shopping at the local mall, there is no law against their refusing to patronize stores where Jews, blacks, women or people with obvious ethnic backgrounds happen to work. Throughout the market place anti-discrimination laws actually discriminate mainly against sellers, vendors, proprietors, employers, and so forth. If a prospective employee stays away from places of work for prejudicial reasons, there is no law against this. If racists stay away from a restaurant because it is owned or employs people against whom they harbor racial prejudice, this is not legally forbidden. You will not be able to turn in such potential customers to the EPA and get any action taken against them.

It is probably quite impossible to force such customers to stop acting on their irrational prejudice but it is also quite clear that this amounts to the unequal application of the spirit and even letter of the civil rights laws that were enacted to prohibit prejudicial conduct throughout the American economy.

Perhaps this contains an important lesson. Conduct that does not violate others’ rights may be very ill suited for governmental action. When people do violate the rights of others, this is usually evident by way of some actions that can be publicly observed – assault, battery, kidnapping, rape, murder, and so forth. But conduct that doesn’t involve such violation is not available for control. This is akin to the problem with hate crimes – how can it be verified that someone commits a violent crime out of hate?

Of course there are some measures that can be taken to counter prejudice at a certain point of its manifestation. For example, if one opens up one’s commercial establishment to all a sundry but then tries to inject criteria midway through the deal, when one notices that a potential customer is gay or black or from Bulgaria, that can be countered since the offer has already been made and to arbitrarily withdraw it can be legally actionable. Not unless the criteria, be these valid or not, are announced before the invitation has gone out to all a sundry to come and do business, may they be deployed.

Ok, but this of course has no impact on the great majority of market agents who are free to indulge their racism, sexism, ethnic prejudice and such by refusing to deal with merchants who may well have just the product or service, for the right price, they are in the market for. People who insist on using the government to make people behave well are facing a big problem with this.

But there is one avenue of recourse against the market agents who act irrationally, namely, to work very hard and vigilantly to educate them and to condemn them whenever their irrational discrimination comes to light. The trouble is that there has emerged such a heavy dependence on fixing moral failing by way of the law that such non-governmental approaches are not even explored, let alone practiced.

Two more Census workers blow the whistle

From the New York Post:

Two more Census workers blow the whistle

Last Updated: 1:23 AM, May 25, 2010
Posted: 12:42 AM, May 25, 2010

You know the old saying: “Everyone loves a charade.” Well, it seems that the Census Bureau may be playing games.

Last week, one of the millions of workers hired by Census 2010 to parade around the country counting Americans blew the whistle on some statistical tricks.

The worker, Naomi Cohn, told The Post that she was hired and fired a number of times by Census. Each time she was hired back, it seems, Census was able to report the creation of a new job to the Labor Department.

Below, I have a couple more readers who worked for Census 2010 and have tales to tell.

But first, this much we know.

Each month Census gives Labor a figure on the number of workers it has hired. That figure goes into the closely followed monthly employment report Labor provides. For the past two months the hiring by Census has made up a good portion of the new jobs.

Labor doesn’t check the Census hiring figure or whether the jobs are actually new or recycled. It considers a new job to have been created if someone is hired to work at least one hour a month.

One hour! A month! So, if a worker is terminated after only one hour and another is hired in her place, then a second new job can apparently be reported to Labor . (I’ve been unable to get Census to explain this to me.)

Here’s a note from a Census worker — this one from Manhattan:

“John: I am on my fourth rehire with the 2010 Census.

“I have been hired, trained for a week, given a few hours of work, then laid off. So my unemployed self now counts for four new jobs.

“I have been paid more to train all four times than I have been paid to actually produce results. These are my tax dollars and your tax dollars at work.

“A few months ago I was trained for three days and offered five hours of work counting the homeless. Now, I am knocking (on) doors trying to find the people that have not returned their Census forms. I worked the 2000 Census. It was a far more organized venture.

“Have to run and meet my crew leader, even though with this rain I did not work today. So I can put in a pay sheet for the hour or hour and a half this meeting will take. Sincerely, C.M.”

And here’s another:

“John: I worked for (Census) and I was paid $18.75 (an hour) just like Ms. Naomi Cohn from your article.

“I worked for about six weeks or so and I picked the hours I wanted to work. I was checking the work of others. While I was classifying addresses, another junior supervisor was checking my work.

“In short, we had a “checkers checking checkers” quality control. I was eventually let go and was told all the work was finished when, in fact, other people were being trained for the same assignment(s).

“I was re-hired about eight months later and was informed that I would have to go through one week of additional training.

“On the third day of training, I got sick and visited my doctor. I called my supervisor and asked how I can make up the class. She informed me that I was ‘terminated.’ She elaborated that she had to terminate three other people for being five minutes late to class.

“I did get two days’ pay and I am sure the ‘late people’ got paid also. I think you would concur that this is an expensive way to attempt to control sickness plus lateness. I am totally convinced that the Census work could be very easily done by the US Postal Service.

“When I was trying to look for an address or had a question about a building, I would ask the postman on the beat. They knew the history of the route and can expand in detail who moved in or out etc. I have found it interesting that if someone works one hour, they are included in the labor statistics as a new job being full.

“I am not surprised that you can’t get any answers from Census staff; I found there were very few people who knew the big picture. M.G.”

When I received my Census form in the mail, I filled it out. Nobody had to knock on my door.

I answered truthfully about the number of people living in my household. But I could have just as easily dou bled the number. Why not? Didn’t Census ad vertisements imply that my community would get more federal money if the popula tion were larger?

I’m glad people are finding work with the Census. For some it’s the only work they have had this year and the chump change they are making for a few hours’ work is a godsend.

But wasting taxpayers’ money on busywork isn’t going to do much for the economy.