Thursday, November 27, 2014

Failure in Ferguson

While everyone else is spouting off about whether or not the prosecutor in Ferguson Missouri should have forwarded the case of Officer Wilson shooting Michael Brown to the Grand jury, and how idiotic it is to riot and burn your fellow neighbors out because “the man” is putting you down, I’d like to take a second and think for a second about what failed in Ferguson.

I’m not going to second guess the instance of the shooting or say in any way that Officer Wilson committed a crime when he shot the young man. The evidence is pretty conclusive that Michael Brown was charging him, and in that moment, Officer Wilson has a reasonable fear of harm, and took appropriate action.

The question I have is what led up to this crux that left a young man dead in the street and arguably ruined the life of the man who shot him? Could things have been done differently to have avoided this tragedy? From the little bit I’ve put together, my distinct impression is that neither of these two were the sharpest knives in the drawer. What could have happened when these two idiots crossed paths to have prevented this?

By the accounts and Officer Wilson encountered the young thug in the middle of the street, and then received word that suspects matching his description had just robbed a convenience store. This is when the encounter turned violent, when Brown reached into the car, slugged Wilson a couple of times and was shot in the hand. Up to this point, Wilson had done nothing wrong. One does not reasonably expect an eighteen year old – no matter how big – to assault an officer of the law, especially in his car. Brown then took off, and Wilson made his first mistake: he got out of the car.

Look dude, you just got your lights punched out and you had a car door protecting you. What makes you think you have a chance with this guy in the middle of the street? Oh, yeah, you have a gun.

This is a fundamental problem with the culture of many law enforcement agencies. That piece of iron on your hip makes you feel like you’re ten feet tall and covered with hair, and gives you the power to enforce your authority whenever, wherever and however you please. It gives you the confidence to enter into situations that no sane, unarmed person would even consider. And that confidence is misplaced, because guns aren’t as effective as Hollywood would have us believe, and often when a Police officer’s confidence and ego oversteps his common sense, it’s the public he’s sworn to serve that suffers for it.

A word about firearms: handguns are a marginally effective weapon. They’re difficult to aim, and they often don’t immediately stop people from doing what they’re doing. The fact is that many people don’t even realize they’ve been shot at first. Someone who’s intent on closing to assault you may not stop doing so immediately just because they’ve been shot, unless the bullet makes them physically incapable of continuing, which is a pretty low probability shot. Humans can absorb an amazing amount of punishment and continue functioning for short periods of time. The US Army discovered this in the early twentieth century during the Philippine campaigns. One of the reasons the US army adopted the Colt .45 1911 as its standard sidearm is because the .38’s they had been using weren’t stopping the Moro tribesmen. As least the big, heavy, slow-moving .45 slug would throw them back a little, giving more time to aim for a kill shot.

Officer Wilson discovered this the hard way when a barrage of fire failed to stop Brown’s charge, and he ended up having to aim for a kill shot to protect himself. Almost immediately afterward, backup arrived.

Did Wilson have an alternate way of subduing Brown without using a firearm? I doubt it. A taser would have worked well in this situation, but it’s unreliable. If the barbs don’t seat properly, nothing is going to happen. It’s a sad fact that few US law enforcement officers have adequate martial arts training to be effective in unarmed hand to hand combat. Unions have seen to it that Agencies cannot require minimum levels of martial arts training for their officers unless they provide resources and pay them to participate. Few law enforcement agencies have the budgetary resources to support such an effort. Infrequent weekend seminars are inadequate to adequately train officers to any level of proficiency in martial arts. As a black belt in Aikido, I trained four or five times a week for many year before I felt proficient enough to be confident in my skills. Martial arts are something that need to be practiced continuously to be effective. In Japan, many law enforcement agencies make the acquisition of a black belt in Aikido a requirement to be promoted beyond a certain level. This gives the officers the confidence to enter into many situations calmly, something that American law enforcement lacks.

What should Wilson have done? What would the downside have been to just staying in the car, keeping Brown in sight and waiting for backup to arrive? Sometimes the very best thing to do is to back away. It runs against human nature, it’s not what your ego calls for you to do. But that’s why we train police officers: to be effective. Not to be the walking personification of law and order. Wilson’s all to human reaction to having been assaulted while in a position of authority put him in an untenable situation that ended with a dead kid in the middle of the street.

The other question I don’t hear anyone asking is what the hell the state of mind was of Michael Brown? This kid was not a hardened criminal. He wasn’t old enough to have any realistic life experience or to have formed any opinions of his own. Where the hell did he get the idea that assaulting a police officer was an appropriate thing to do?

Well, we don’t have to look any further than Louis Head, Michael Brown’s step-father, who will go down with his famous “Burn this bitch to the ground!” cry. What kind of advice must Michael have heard from this man concerning interactions with the police when he was growing up? What kind of attitude must he have learned concerning race? Certainly Michael’s actions in the last moments of his life were based on information he must have learned from somewhere.

Sadly, this is the price of rampant liberalism, where fathers and families have abdicated their parental responsibilities to the state, and what little parenting they do is to teach their children to despise the very state to which they turn for sustenance. We are nation of laws because our citizens have agreed by majority that certain laws are necessary to preserve prosperity and keep the peace. The respect that Americans generally have for the law is based on the understanding that the law protects their interests. Developing a whole underclass of citizen who have no skin in the game, whose interests are at odds with the people upon whom this nation was founded is a recipe for disaster. Before anyone passes a law to assist a minority group in some way, they need to examine the motivations that will result from such assistance. People are not inherently altruistic, and it’s a fact of life that subsidizing bad behavior just encourages more bad behavior.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Economics for Occupiers 14: Islamic Economics

A largely ignored economic system that deserves discussion because of the number of lives it currently affects is that of Islam.  Islamic economics have never been specifically defined.  The precepts of Islamic economic theory were established in a culture that was evolving from a tribal anarchy to a feudalist society.  The defining characteristics of Islamic economics would have been discarded centuries ago as unworkable, except they have the force of religious law to Muslims, who believe that they were handed down directly from Allah.

The Muslim world has been struggling to reconcile itself with the modern world throughout the twentieth century. They have been trying to overlay a medieval belief system onto modern political and economic methods with limited success.

Read more about this in chapter 10 of Economic for Occupiers, now available on

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Economics for Occupiers 13: Fascism

Fascism, like pornography, is one of those things that seems to have no specific definition, but everyone thinks they know it when they see it. Fascism is inextricably associated in public perception with Hitler and the Nazi Party.  It's a combination of complementary political and economic principles.  The conventional understanding is that it's a right-wing ideology, although it has nothing in common with conservatism, and grew out of leftist socialist movements in both Germany and Italy in the twentieth century.

Our discussion will focus primarily on the economic characteristics of fascism, and through that we will see how the political/ideological characteristics develop.

Fascism is was defined by Benito Mussolini as the "Third Position," an alternative to both Communism and Capitalism.  Under Fascism, the state-controlled economy is a mix of private and public ownership over the means of production. Both the public and private sector are directed by a State-directed economic plan. The prosperity of private enterprise depends on how well it synchronizes itself with the state's economic goals. Private companies are free to make a profit, but must uphold the national interest over profit. The government concerns itself with producing adequate domestic necessities to forestall dissension and popular unrest.

As one can imagine, this sort of setup is a fertile environment for corruption and cronyism, and indeed these were an endemic problem in Nazi Germany.  Nevertheless, when mobilizing the productive resources of a nation towards a specific goal, whether it be to put a man on the Moon, or take over all of Western Europe, there is no more efficient economic model, if the nation is willing to accept the many downsides and implications.

Read more about this in chapter 9 of Economic for Occupiers, now available on

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Economics for Occupiers 12: The Myth of the Regulation-free Market

There's a very vocal segment of free market capitalists that maintain that the free market should be entirely free of regulation.  Their position is that in a pure free market, anyone should be allowed to trade anything, to place any product for sale on the open market.  In their idealistic world, the free market will self-regulate, and substandard products will find no buyers, and every seller in the market will seek excellence, to the benefit of everyone. Anyone who dares to suggest that this may be an overly extreme position is immediately castigated and accused of being a "statist."  This black or white logical fallacy presumes that if you're a "statist," that you automatically endorse government regulation and interference at all levels of the free market.

As we saw in section 10, this view of a pure free market ignores a couple of important points.  You will remember from our basic definition of capitalism that transactions should be free of coercion or misrepresentation. For the capitalist purist market to work as desired, all participants in a transaction must have perfect knowledge of the value of the commodity being exchanged.  This is clearly impossible. What if the seller in a transaction misrepresents the product he's selling?  A seller can make all sorts of claims that may be difficult to verify during the transaction.  The answer given by the market purist is that doing so would stain the seller's reputation, and his product will quickly fall out of favor.  The purist offers no explanation of how this would happen.  I suppose the news of the miscreant's bad product will magically propagate through an almost infinite market by some sort of telepathy.

Read more about this in chapter 14 of Economic for Occupiers, now available on

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Economics for Occupiers Part 11: The 1%

The foundation of the modern protests against capitalism is that it leads to a perceived inequality of wealth. The criticism is that wealth is concentrated in a very few individuals. The conventional wisdom is that this is unfair, and that the wealth of an economy should be distributed more evenly across society. One term used recently in a Rolling Stone editorial is "Horrific inequality." Critics demonize the inequality in such terms, assuming as a matter of course that it's not fair and that the world would be better if people who have more would just share.

Fallacy of the Zero Sum Game
The basis for this conception is the presumption that the total wealth is a zero-sum game, that if someone else has a bigger slice of the pie, then your slice must be correspondingly smaller. People who subscribe to this understanding haven't looked beyond their toes in this age of vast material wealth, this age of iPhones and jet aircraft, and asked themselves where all this wealth was a hundred years ago. Wealth is produced by the capitalist. Since the industrial revolution, durable production has far exceeded nondurable consumption, allowing wealth to accumulate in quantities never before seen in history. The question any critic of capitalist wealth needs to answer is when a capitalist entrepreneur becomes wealthy by means of his efficiency in production, who became poorer? At whose expense did the entrepreneur gain his wealth?

Read more about this in chapter 16 of Economic for Occupiers, now available on