Posts tagged Austro-Athenian Empire

Steal This Cartoon

Over at Austro-Athenian Empire, Roderick recently mentioned a couple particularly bizarre attempts to use Intellectual Protectionism in the service of chickenshit (parrot-shit?) speech-control. I have a story about that, too, actually.

A few days ago over at Alas, A Blog, Jeff Fecke and Mandolin each put up a couple of posts featuring images of a couple racist-ass cartoons by Donna Barstow (1, 2). Specifically, these:

Here's another cartoon with a map of Mexico with a list reading "Drug cartels, kidnappings, unemployment, poverty, gangs, guns, NEW -- swine flu" and inscribed "Like a bad neighbor, Mexico is (still) there."

Hey everybody! The entire country of Mexico is dirty, dangerous, and poor! Also, they give us deadly plagues!

A cartoon of Barack Obama with wavy, kinky hair standing on end, inscribed "The President Elect Chia Pet"

Hey everybody! … Um. Wait. Somebody remind me what the hell the point of this cartoon is, again?

The reason I’m using the image of these cartoons here is for the purpose of commenting on them. Specifically, for the purpose of demonstrating the fact that both cartoons are crudely racist; they also just are terrible cartoons. The first one — which is just a bullet list of standard Anglo disdain for Mexico as poor and dirty and dangerous, with a bit of topical scapegoating and racist-ass panic over the flu tossed in for good measure, all of it awkwardly shoe-horned into a joke through an awkward pastiche of insurance advertising slogans — isn’t especially funny. The second one is not merely unfunny, but, as far as I can make out, in fact is so pointless as to defy classification as even attempted humor. O.K.; yes; I understand that Barack Obama is black, and that, like many black people, he has hair that tends to be more kinky than the kind of hair stereotypical of white people. Is there a punchline here? (Really, seriously, if anyone can figure out what the point of it is, let me know. I’m seriously tempted to view it as avant-garde commentary by the deed, bringing Dada to the world of editorial cartooning in order to undermine the bourgeois affectation that cartoons need to have points or make sense.)

I’m also reposting these here because shortly after the posts went online, Donna Barstow showed up in the comments to invoke copyright law, accuse Alas of thieving, and to threaten the folks at Alas with complaints to their web host or legal action in an attempt to intimidate them into taking down the posts. As it happens, I also got a nasty-gram from Ms. Barstow, because Alas is one of the blogs syndicated at Feminist Blogs, and so the posts with the images appeared there too. So I received the following demand and threat from Ms. Barstow last Thursday:

From: Donna Barstow Cartoons <donnabarstow@sbcglobal.net>
To: Feminist Blogs Web Admin
Subject: take my copyrighted cartoon off your site immediately
Date: 4/30/2009 12:53 AM

Dear Feminist Blogs,

I’m a feminist. I’ve written 2 cartoon books for women. I am one of only 3 women out of 60 editorial cartoonists. However, I do not STEAL from other people, and I hope you don’t either. http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2009/04/29/another-racist-cartoon-by-editorial-cartoonist-donna-barstow/ And frankly, I’m shocked that a FEMINIST blog would simply take for granted that anything published by the amptoons crazies would have any truth at all!!! You did no research or even ask me, and you assume it’s all right to call a person (in this case a woman) a racist and ruin her reputation???? This is a hate crime on your part, and you will not be happy if I have to contact your server.

I own all rights to the cartoon and the idea. I have already contacted amptoons server to have it taken down tomorrow, and they will get a warning.

Please refer to DMCA copyright infringement requirements at http://www.softlayer.com/legal.html before you willfully abuse copyrighted work, defame and harass innocent people. Please remove my cartoon immediately. Thank you.

Kind Regards,
Donna Barstow
And look for me all week in Slate! (all Editorial cartoons)
Why I Did It (some Editorial cartoons)
Donna Barstow Cartoons (no Editorial cartoons, but still good)

Barry Deutsch, who runs Alas, will have to choose his own course. As for Feminist Blogs, though, the answer is: Absolutely not. I will do no such thing.

As it happens, I don’t think Ms. Bartsow has a legal leg to stand on — the use of the cartoons for the purpose of commentary, especially for non-commercial educational purposes, is well within the realm of fair use. But more to the point, even if she did have a legal leg to stand on, that would only be an indictment of such a ridiculous, tyrannical and dialogue-stifling law. Barstow is not losing one penny from the reprinting of cartoons in the context of a commentary on their contents; the cartoons were and are being given away for free on the Internet to anyone who wanted to look at them. Nobody is trying to appropriate credit for the cartoons or trying to pass off her racist-ass cartoons as their own; the whole point of the posts is to point out that they were drawn by somebody else, and that that somebody else is expressing some crude racism. Barstow’s only complaint here, the only thing this stealing amounts to, is the fact that the cartoons are being used for a purpose that Barstow doesn’t like — specifically, that they are being used as visible evidence in an effort to criticize her work and to support claims about the character of her work which Barstow disagrees with, and finds insulting. Her threats are an explicit attempt to use Intellectual Protectionism as a tool of censorship, to attack those who disagree with her as thieves, and to coercively silence criticism of her work. That is nothing more than thuggery in a three-piece suit, and Ms. Barstow ought to be ashamed of herself.

I am also posting all this, not only to talk about the story itself, but to encourage you to talk about it, too. If silencing critics is what she wants to achieve, I would like Donna Barstow to find out that it will not work. I encourage anyone and everyone who supports free speech, and who believes that people who draw racist-ass cartoons oughtn’t to be able to go around threatening their critics into silence, to repost this post, or to write a post of your own that uses Donna Barstow’s racist-ass comics as evidence in the course of a critical commentary on the content of those comics, and that discusses her attempts to use Intellectual Protectionism laws as a tool to censor the critics of her work.

Consider it a form of direct action against law-waving bullies and for vigorous, open debate. People who act like this need to know that their would-be victims will not be silenced. And the more that they become convinced that these attempts to stifle criticism will reliably produce exactly the opposite of their desired outcome, with so many people reposting the criticism that any attempt to shut it down will be swamped by sheer numbers, the less likely they are to imagine that it could possibly be a good idea.

Three notes for the critics of the critics of apologists for Wal-Mart

I’m a few weeks late to the party over Roderick’s Wal-Mart post. For various reasons; I’ve been meaning to write down these notes for a while, but other things have been grabbing my attention. But today seems like a good day to sit down and get to it, and in any case I expect that exactly the same old debate will be coming up some time in the next month or two, so I’d like this to be on record before the next go-around, because there are three arguments from the anti-anti-Wal-Mart side of things that I’m getting tired of reading, two of which I haven’t seen much in the way of substantive replies to, and all of which I’d like, if it is even remotely possible, to make some contribution towards killing dead.

Roderick complained about an article by Fazil Mihlar. Mihlar claims that Wal-Mart deserves both the Nobel Peace Prize and, in fact, sainthood. (I’m not sure that the Vatican has yet started canonizing corporations or other artificial persons. But never mind.) The reason he offers is that Wal-Mart does a lot of good in the world (providing jobs, making donations, making valued goods available at low prices), and that they are able to do that good because of entrepreneurial innovations and expertise in the market, especially the market for the inputs for their business.

Roderick pointed out, in reply, that this account left out a crucial factor: government interventions against the free market that benefit big retail business models, such as the seizure of land through eminent domain, corporate welfare, regulatory suppression of competitors, and government-subsidized infrastructure for long-distance transportation. Thus:

Both Wal-Mart’s critics and its defenders usually see it as an embodiment of the free market. But to me Wal-Mart looks like just one more special interest feeding at the taxpayers’ trough.

I’m opposed to Wal-Mart because I like the free market.

— Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-03-31): Advocatus Diaboli

I think that’s straightforward enough. But it brought the usual complaints from the usual suspects. There’s a long and very interesting and sometimes illuminating discussion in the comments, which you should read if you haven’t already. But what I want to focus on now is a couple of counter-arguments, which have been repeatedly raised by critics of this line of criticism (notably J.H. Huebert and Stephan Kinsella) which I think involve serious economic errors and a healthy dose of special pleading.

Before I begin, though, let me say a couple of things. First, this post will have absolutely nothing to do with the question of whether or not Wal-Mart is a morally criminal enterprise of the sort discussed in Confiscation and the Homestead Principle, and hence it will have nothing to do with whether or not Wal-Mart enjoys legitimate private property rights over its land, stores, trucks, goods for sale, bank accounts, or anything else, and hence it will also have nothing to do with whether or not it’s O.K. for people to vandalize their stores, loot them, shoplift from them, expropriate their means of production, or otherwise get up in Wal-Mart’s grill. In fact almost nobody who’s been a party to this particular conversation so far (as opposed to some other, separate conversations about protest tactics and Macy’s) has been talking about this, except for a dialogue between Stephan Kinsella and an imaginary left-libertarian in his head. I have my own views on that (which are fairly uninteresting; in short, that there isn’t one answer for the whole corporation and that it depends on the case), but it’s not the issue at hand in Roderick’s article, and it’s not an issue I’ll be addressing here, either.

Second, this article will also have very little to do with whether or not Wal-Mart deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, or sainthood, or praise, or censure, or some mixture or combination of the two. The arguments that I’ll be discussing might feed into a larger discussion about how to parcel out praise and blame, but that’s not my concern here. My concern has specifically to do with the extent to which Wal-Mart ought to be regarded as an example of free-market entrepreneurial success. (That’s related to but distinct from the question of whether Wal-Mart ought to be praised or blamed or neither by free-marketeers. If you’re curious about that topic, this post will disappoint, but you might get something out of my exchange with Will Wilkinson in the post and comments at GT 2008-11-10: The ALLied invasion of Cato.)

With that cleared out of the way, here are the specific arguments that I do want to address.

  1. Why single out Wal-Mart? When left-libertarians point out that Wal-Mart benefits from certain aggressive government interventions, and suggest that this is a reason not to cite Wal-Mart’s bidniz practices as an example of the free market at work, we are constantly asked — with the utmost innocence, even though this has been addressed over and over again every single time it has come up, generally without any response — why we are singling out Wal-Mart for criticism, given that many other market actors also benefit from the same interventions, or from other similarly objectionable interventions. Thus, for example, when Sheldon Richman writes:

    It would be impossible to sort out which profits are legit and which are not. I don’t think that’s the point. The point is to stop the machinery that makes illegitimate profits possible. That’s the state and its various methods of privileging and burdening.

    Kinsella replies:

    Yes. We libertarians are of course against this. So why single out Walmart? By imprecise, lax standards, 99% of society is criminal/suspect. Where does that get us?

    Let me just repeat here the same damn thing that I have repeated every time this stupid question gets asked. There are two main reasons that Wal-Mart gets singled out here. The first reason is often because some conventionally pro-capitalist libertarian brought Wal-Mart up as an example of the free market in action. Since Mihlar brings Wal-Mart up as an example of free market success, then it would be bizarre for Roderick not to have mentioned Wal-Mart in his reply; if we are informed that Wal-Mart ought to be praised because of a characteristic X that it possesses, but it turns out that Wal-Mart does not actually possess characteristic X, then the responsible thing to do is to discuss some specifics about Wal-Mart (not every other market actor toiling in this unfree market of ours) in order to demonstrate that it hasn’t got X. This is, in fact, what actually happened in the exchange that Kinsella was supposedly commenting on.

    The second reason why Wal-Mart often comes up is because Wal-Mart is a convenient example of something broader that they want to discuss — for example, the specific system of state interventions that tends to privilege big box retailers, as a group, at the expense of alternative channels of distribution, and of alternative uses of land more broadly. Of course, Wal-Mart is not the only retailer that benefits from eminent domain seizures, or from government-subsidized infrastructure for long-distance shipping, or from corporate welfare packages in the name of development. So does Target; so does Best Buy; so does Barnes and Noble; and on, and on, down the line, for just about any strip mall chain store you could think of. But Wal-Mart is a convenient example of the broader trend, because of its unique size, scope, and name recognition. If I intend to talk about a certain kind of business model and its relationship with state power, then I hardly think it’s unfair to pick a specific example to talk about, and leave the extension of the analysis as an exercise for the reader. And I hardly think it’s weird or wrong to pick the most prominent and largest example of that particular business model as my specific example. When I write about bad things that the city government in Las Vegas does — for example, its fierce devotion to police brutality, economic cleansing, and using eminent domain to ensure that land gets used the way the tourism and convention industry wants it used, rather than the way that its owners do — I often go beyond simply reporting on local events, and I draw quite broad conclusions about government in general, or city governments in particular, but even then, I don’t feel compelled to mention, in the same breath, every other large city government in the world that does similarly awful things. It’s not picking on Las Vegas, or singling it out, to focus in on it as an example for the sake of discussion. And it is sheer bluster to go on accusing critics of apologists for Wal-Mart of singling out Wal-Mart when they have explained over, and over, and over again why we are mentioning it as an example of broader trends.

  2. Who are Wal-Mart’s competitors? This is, actually, somewhat related to the earlier question, but the issue goes deeper. When Roderick and others (Kevin Carson, especially) point out that the success of Wal-Mart’s business model depends heavily on Wal-Mart’s capacity to convince city governments to grant them corporate welfare giveaways and steal land on their behalf, or on Wal-Mart’s having access to a large network of reliable interstate roads available at a low marginal cost, which are funded in a way that heavily subsidizes those who use them for high-volume cross-country heavy trucking (which is, after all, exactly what folks like Mihlar are referring to when they extol Wal-Mart’s genious at transportation, distribution, and logistics) it is often replied that Wal-Mart is just making better use of available resources than its competitors; that these resources are available not only to Wal-Mart but to its competitors as well, and that, therefore, Wal-Mart’s advantages over its competitors must be the result of something other than the availability of those resources — must, that is, be the result of greater acumen at serving its customers needs. Thus, it is argued, even though Wal-Mart depends on coercively-funded government resources for its current business model, they would (it is argued) have the same advantages (whatever those may be) that make them successful, in this an unfree market, even after the transformation of the market into a free market. Or, at the very least, they oughtn’t to be blamed for being able to successfully make use of those advantages under the present circumstances. Thus, for example, J.H. Huebert in an earlier reply to Roderick:

    We are still not sure why Long believes big businesses, and Wal-Mart in particular, disproportionately benefit from the existence of government roads. No one disapproves of government roads more than we do, but the roads are there for anyone to use — the would-be competitor has just as much access to them as Wal-Mart does. Where is the unfair advantage?

    And again in the comments on Roderick’s more recent post

    How does the existence of government roads hamstring Wal-Mart’s competitors? Anyone can use the roads.

    And Stephan Kinsella, in the same thread:

    Why do the subsidies help Walmart more than local mom and pop competitors? They all get goods shipped from far away

    The main problem with this kind of response is that it betrays a curious sort of anti-economic blind spot about just who Wal-Mart’s competitors are. It is true that, if we lookonly at the other actually-existing businesses that provide substitute goods and services — K-Mart, Target, Home Depot, and other big box retailers, or, expanding outward, smaller, non-chain retailers trying to sell some subset of the goods that Wal-Mart sells — then it is clear that those sorts of competitors do have access to the same kind of government privileges that Wal-Mart does; Wal-Mart just has succeeded more than they have at exploiting those privileges in such a way as to offer the goods most in demand and to offer them at lower prices. Fine. But of course, those aren’t all the competitors that Wal-Mart has — not if you consider the competitors for Wal-Mart’s inputs as well as the competitors for Wal-Mart’s outputs. In conversations like these, it is typical for conventionally pro-capitalist libertarians to act as if the business under discussion were only competing with other large chains in its sector — as if we were just picking on Wal-Mart because they’re an easy target, and rooting for Target instead — or as if it were only competing with retailers more broadly. But it’s not. The market does not just consist of passive consumers and a handful of formalized joint-stock companies. The market is a big and messy place, and whatever you might say about the ways that Wal-Mart gains advantages over other businesses that do basically what Wal-Mart does, it is certainly clear that Wal-Mart’s advantages over competing uses of the land, labor, and infrastructure that are currently devoted to serving its business model.

    Thus, for example, Wal-Mart currently enjoys preferential access to long, straight stretches of land that it needs to ship its goods in trucks. Preferential access compared to whom? Well, not to Best Buy or Mom & Pop’s; they both can get things shipped along the same stretch. That much is seen. But what is not seen is that they — Wal-Mart, and other retailers as well — do have preferential access to those resources when compared the people who used to have, or might have had, homes, farms, parks, small businesses, car-only roads, or any number of other competitive uses of the land, which would have won out if the question were decided by homesteading and voluntary exchange, rather than by tax-funded acquisitions, government land grants, and eminent domain theft. Similarly, other big retailers also typically get at least some of the same government privileges in corporate welfare giveaways and eminent domain seizures in the name of development. Thus, Wal-Mart may not have much advantage over, say, Target, or other fellow big chain retailers, when it come to this kind of government boodle. But those who were using, or would otherwise have used, the money or the land that the government seized, for purposes that government’s don’t count as development, since they don’t increase property or sales tax revenue — keeping up their own homes, growing their own food, running down-market or informal-sector businesses, street-corner hustling, and the like — those people are also would-be competitors for the use of the land, money, or other resources that Wal-Mart is having the government seize and redistribute by force. And those competitors certainly are hamstrung by the government’s redistribution of money, or its expropriation of land. We know that they are because the government is seizing it by force, and people were using it for other things, and would continue to use it for other things unless they were paid more than Wal-Mart and other development beneficiaries pay for it in the forced sale. That is, after all, the point of eminent domain.

    The problem here is that when you fetishize competition as the struggle between similar businesses to provide substitute goods or services, and forget about the other forms of competition for scarce resources that are at issue — often uses by individual property-owners, often uses of the property that may be heavily tied up in local communities and in the informal sector, and may be governed by incentives different from those faced by large, formalized, for-profit corporations — it will, no doubt, seem incomprehensible that someone would focus on how Wal-Mart uses the roads that anyone can use. Because the real nature of the problem is the fact that resources that are currently devoted to those roads cannot be used for what they would be used for in a freed market, which results in a big splash and some major ripples in the market distorted by that particular rock. Not because Wal-Mart alone benefits at the expense of K-Mart or Target, but rather because Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, and all the other big-box chain retailers — and, to a lesser extent, also locally-owned, small retailers — all benefit at the expense of somebody other than retailers, and at the expense of uses for land other than the servicing of retail sales, when the government uses force to seize long, straight strips of land, to build and maintain big highways on it, and to open up those roads, mostly without tolls and mostly without price discrimination, to anyone who cares to use it, regardless of what the marginal cost of the use may be. If those big highways weren’t being laid down according to political considerations and development politics, and if they weren’t being heavily subsidized by coercively-seized taxes, the land might well (would probably) be used for something quite other than a large, subsidized national shipping network; and if so, those who intend to go into retail, especially those who want to go into the retailing of goods from an international network of bargain-basement suppliers, might well lose a lot of the comparative advantage that the sword of the State currently grants them over other, non-retail uses of the same scarce resources. It’s not that Wal-Mart is special here among retailers, in anything other than degree; it’s that Wal-Mart is one prominent example of a larger dynamic — the way in which State coercion, State expropriation, and State redistribution sucks scarce resources out of one sector of the economy and spits them out into another — forcibly redirecting them towards large, centralized, formal-sector cash businesses, and away from other, smaller, more localized, more informal, or less commercial uses of the resources (like housing, open space, small farming, cottage industry, local nightclubs, and other typical victims of the Development machine). The reason that Wal-Mart is not a good example of free market dynamics is not because it somehow owes its advantages over Target to government intervention, but rather because Wal-Mart, Target, and the rest of the big retailers all owe their advantages over every other competing use of resources to the heavy hand of government. The result of removing those coercive advantages probably wouldn’t be to hurt Wal-Mart in particular in its competition with Target; but it would remove a mighty big subsidy that Wal-Mart, Target, and all the other big box retailers enjoy over alternative, non-retail uses of the same property. Which might just make for some changes in how our cities look, and in how we get around and make our livings in them.

  • Diamonds, water, and roads: Finally, when Kinsella and Huebert try to exonerate Wal-Mart from blame for the government interventions that it exploits, they often fall back on an argument that it has just made the best entrepreneurial use of a situation that it found but did not create, and in order to support that claim, they have often portrayed Wal-Mart’s relationship with the state as being quite different from what it actually is. Thus, on roads, J.H. Huebert puts it in the most starkly silly terms here:

    Kevin Carson writes: Wal-Mart’s business model is heavily reliant on susidized roads. It supplanted competitors which had local supply chains.

    Yes, but Wal-Mart found the roads there, it didn’t create them, and it used them better than its competitors to serve consumers.

    The funny thing about this kind of argument is watching an Austrian economist suddenly forget everything that he ever knew about marginal analysis, in order to paint a picture of Wal-Mart just bumbling along until — by George! — it finds a road out in the wilderness (perhaps by tripping over it), and thinks why, I might just be able to use this to efficiently serve consumers! Of course, if we are talking about the whole entire Interstate Highway System, then it is true that Wal-Mart did not play much of a role in creating that, and doesn’t play much of a role in the political process that maintains it. It was created largely at the behest of the military-industrial complex and the construction-pork-barrel complex, back in 1956, when Sam Walton was still running a local Ben Franklin franchise. And the political support for it hardly depends on Wal-Mart; the notion that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in seizing land and seizing taxes for the purpose of a huge network of toll-free interstate highways is so far outside the horizons of acceptable dissent in D.C. that nobody would need to lobby against that. So, yes, fine, in that sense Wal-Mart is benefiting from the situation at competitors’ expense (for the reasons I mentioned above), but it did not create the situation that it benefits from; it just got better than some other similar companies at dealing with it.

    But, of course, if you want to do a serious economic analysis of Wal-Mart’s business model, what you really need to know about is not the whole stock of its inputs. What you really need to know about is the marginal units of its inputs. And if we are going to talk about the highway system that services Wal-Mart, we need to look not only at Wal-Mart’s relationship to system of government roads as a whole, but also Wal-Mart’s relationship to the specific stretches of highway that Wal-Mart uses.

    And when we look at it that way, we’ll find that Wal-Mart is heavily involved in every sort of lobbying in order to get various levels of government involved in subsidizing its access to that. Just about every time Wal-Mart decides to build a new store, or especially a new distribution center, they turn to local governments to demand that they grab some money out of working folks’ pockets and put it towards building up business park infrastructure and highway interchanges, or widening or extending some existing stretch of road to service Wal-Mart’s trucking needs, or simply to build a new spur out to service nothing but the distribution center. (A few examples gleaned from a few minutes on Google: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.) Wal-Mart solicits and actively lobbies for this sort of thing all the time so that they can improve the marginal benefits they get from the road network, while being able to pass along the marginal cost to taxpayers and to those who would have made alternative uses of the land, capital and labor involved.

    So how far is Wal-Mart merely taking advantage of a situation that it did not create, and how far is it actively collaborating in, and pushing for, wider and more intense aggression by the state against private property owners, when it comes to roads? Well, it depends on what you look at. The problem is that those who have wanted to defend Wal-Mart have done so based on lazy arguments based on Wal-Mart’s relationship to the existence of the interstate highway system as a continent-spanning whole. Once you actually look at the construction and improvement of new stretches of road on the margin — which is, remember, what’s important for understanding how far Wal-Mart’s bidniz model does or does not depend on successfully wielding the sword of the State, since it is only on the margin that they are making all of their decisions, counting all their costs, and reaping all of their profits — it becomes clear that Wal-Mart is not just finding the roads there as some sort of given; it went to the government and got the roads it uses put there, typically by force and typically at the expense of unwilling third parties.

If you want to try and defend Wal-Mart, or its apologists, against their left-libertarian critics, fine, let’s talk about that. But please try to find some arguments other than these.

Hope this helps.

See also:

The Archives of Tomorrow

A few days ago, Roderick mentioned one of the sillier complaints that’s usually directed against Tom Tomorrow and his cartoon This Modern World: that he allegedly only satirizes the Right and never the Left. (By Left, the person making this criticism usually means corporate liberalism, or, really, just Democrats.) There’s plenty of blind spots or confusions that you could criticize Tom Tomorow for, but this one I don’t get. I don’t know exactly why a political cartoonist with very decided views is expected to adhere to the Fairness Doctrine in the topics that he chooses, but anyway, the complaint is just empirically false, and nobody who actually read more than two or three installments of the comic would think that it’s true. Just recently, there’s comics like Obama phenomena, but it’s especially clear if you spent any time reading the comic back during its glory days in the 1990s — since there was a Democratic president at the time, not surprisingly, Tomorrow spent more time writing about Democrats than he does now (and also, at times, the real Left — see, for example, Mumia or Chomsky). Roderick mentioned a particular comic:

But I seem to recall one This Modern World strip in which someone accidentally drops a lit match and then quickly steps on it to extinguish it –- while the punditocracy immediately goes into overdrive, speculating on how, if the match hadn’t been snuffed out, it might have caused forest fires that would devastate whole cities; they conclude: I think this shows the need for more regulation. Anyone know of a link to that?

— Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2008-09-16): Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Took me a while, but I found it. The comic is Dan Rather (1992).

The work took a bit of digging, but it was good fun, since it gave me the opportunity to go back and remind myself of how weird and funny This Modern World used to be back in the 1990s. (Not that it’s bad now; but I appreciated the Bay Area absurdism of something like Citizens Beware or Car Alarm, and Tom Tomorrow has himself said that the comic has gotten less sharp during the Bush years than it was in the 1990s — because the targets for parody have become so damn obvious that there’s no real room for subtlety anymore.) Anyway, along the way I was also happy to be reminded of Terrorists (1995), the response to Bill Clinton’s omnibus anti-terrorism surveillance bill:

As well as Love (1990):

And In Perspective (1990):

You can catch up with more of the last decade through Tom Tomorrow’s online carton archive.

Send in the clowns

Quote thanks to Roderick Long (2008-07-05).

Does the history of politics teach us nothing? What have we ever gained by such means? The Republican party has robbed us by taxes. It has robbed us still worse by its financial legislation, its national bank laws and its depreciated greenbacks. It has given our lands to its servants and sold our birthright to corporations. Yet this was the reform party of half a century ago. As soon as it gained power, it kicked the men — and deservedly, too — who were fools enough to support it. Nor is the record of the Democratic party — which but a few years since claimed to be the only true reform party in the country — one whit better. For two years it had full control of every branch of the Federal government, and what did it do? It violated every pledge made before gaining power. It turned its back on those it promised to help. … As soon as a new party springs up and begins to show signs of success, a lot of political tramps are immediately attracted to its ranks. These men possess a certain amount of influence. They are trained politicians, well versed in the art of packing conventions and proficient at counting the ballots. When they come to the new party with crocodile tears of repentance coursing down their cheeks, it is too weak to refuse their aid. It opens its arms and kissing away their repentant tears, places them in the front rank where glory awaits them. The result of this is a large gain in votes and sometimes success at the polls. But this victory is only gained at the expense of principle, and the last state of that party is worse than the first.

— Francis Tandy (1896), Voluntary Socialism, Chapter 13 ¶¶ 14–15

I add only that making your living through itinerant begging and scavenging is certainly not for everyone, but it is an honorable sort of life and an honest sort of living; calling political hucksters and electioneering con men a bunch of tramps is decidedly unfair to the tramps.

See also:

Unearthed in South Korea

(Via Lew Rockwell 2008-05-19: Cold War Murder and Roderick Long 2008-05-25: Anarchocide in South Korea.)

Charles J. Hanley, The Huffington Post (2008-05-18): Mass Killings In South Korea In 1950 Kept Hidden From History:

SEOUL, South Korea — One journalist’s bid to report mass murder in South Korea in 1950 was blocked by his British publisher. Another correspondent was denounced as a possibly treasonous fabricator when he did report it. In South Korea, down the generations, fear silenced those who knew.

Fifty-eight years ago, at the outbreak of the Korean War, South Korean authorities secretively executed, usually without legal process, tens of thousands of southern leftists and others rightly or wrongly identified as sympathizers. Today a government Truth and Reconciliation Commission is working to dig up the facts, and the remains of victims.

How could such a bloodbath have been hidden from history?

Among the Koreans who witnessed, took part in or lost family members to the mass killings, the events were hardly hidden, but they became a public secret, barely whispered about through four decades of right-wing dictatorship here.

The family couldn’t talk about it, or we’d be stigmatized as leftists, said Kim Chong-hyun, 70, leader of an organization of families seeking redress for their loved ones’ deaths in 1950.

Kim, whose father was shot and buried in a mass grave outside the central city of Daejeon, noted that in 1960-61, a one-year democratic interlude in South Korea, family groups began investigating wartime atrocities. But a military coup closed that window, and the leaders of those organizations were arrested and punished.

Then, from 1961 to 1988, nobody could challenge the regime, to try again to reveal these hidden truths, said Park Myung-lim of Seoul’s Yonsei University, a leading Korean War historian. As a doctoral student in the late 1980s, when South Korea was moving toward democracy, Park was among the few scholars to begin researching the mass killings. He was regularly harassed by the police.

Scattered reports of the killings did emerge in 1950 — and some did not.

British journalist James Cameron wrote about mass prisoner shootings in the South Korean port city of Busan — then spelled Pusan — for London’s Picture Post magazine in the fall of 1950, but publisher Edward Hulton ordered the story removed at the last minute.

Earlier, correspondent Alan Winnington reported on the shooting of thousands of prisoners at Daejeon in the British communist newspaper The Daily Worker, only to have his reporting denounced by the U.S. Embassy in London as an atrocity fabrication. The British Cabinet then briefly considered laying treason charges against Winnington, historian Jon Halliday has written.

Associated Press correspondent O.H.P. King reported on the shooting of 60 political prisoners in Suwon, south of Seoul, and wrote in a later memoir he was shocked that American officers were unconcerned by questions he raised about due process for the detainees.

Some U.S. officers — and U.S. diplomats — were among others who reported on the killings. But their classified reports were kept secret for decades.

— Charles J. Hanley, The Huffington Post (2008-05-18): Mass Killings In South Korea In 1950 Kept Hidden From History

William Gillis, Human Iterations (2008-05-22): Mass Graves:

The commission estimates at least 100,000 people were executed, in a South Korean population of 20 million. That estimate is based on projections from local surveys and is very conservative, said Kim. The true toll may be twice that or more, he told The Associated Press.

In 1945, as the Japanese Empire finally went into retreat, the Korean people were left without an occupational authority for the first time in decades. In that brief moment something amazing happened. The Korean Anarchists, long the champions of the resistance struggle, came out of the woodwork and formed a nationwide federation of village and workers councils to oversee a massive project of land reform. Korea graduated from feudalism overnight. Aside from some struggles with the Socialists and Nationalists, the peninsula was at peace.

When WWII concluded, however, the responsibility of securing peace and order in Korea was assigned to the Americans and Soviets. By all accounts in this instance the US actually had no imperialist intentions. While the Soviets moved quickly to deploy their forces and occupy the North, the Americans took their time showing up, and were largely content to let the South Koreans manage themselves.

The Koreans, culturally steeped with anti-authoritarian values, were fond of America and openly despised the Soviets. While a few socialists fled North hoping that the Soviets would give them a hand against the Anarchists, they were overwhelmed in numbers by a mass migration south. Everyone assumed the Americans would assist or at least respect their autonomy.

This did not last.

The Americans Military commanders who eventually arrived had trouble understanding or dealing with the anarchy they found. They had no protocol for dealing with regional federations and autonomous communes. So they helped the dispossessed aristocracy form a military government. In order to make the map simple. In order to get things under hand.

Most importantly they did not understand that the Korean Anarchists and Anti-Authoritarian activists that saturated the countryside were different than—and in fact vehemently opposed to—the Communists, going so far as to organized and launch insurrectionary attacks on the Soviet Occupation before the Americans arrived.

The Americans couldn’t understand anarchists. But leftists, they knew, meant Soviets. And they had the gall to ignore or resist their puppet military government. So they started killing them.

By the start of the Korean War, the slaughter was in full swing. Having arrested every anarchist organizer or sympathetic peasant they could get their hands on, they started executing them en masse.

The Korean Anarchist movement was, historically, one of the strongest in the world. It survived half a century of brutal occupation and economic exploitation. It survived a three way assault by the Chinese, Japanese and Soviets. It has survived many, many massacres and exterminations. It is even still around today. So strong that in the last few years they’ve been known to evict the police from the streets. But the worst injury it ever suffered was initiated and orchestrated by the United States military. In a single campaign so horrific it borders on genocide.

This was truly, objectively, one of the worst things the US has ever done. And there are some big fucking contenders.

Most north american papers ran front-page stories this Monday about the latest mass graves being uncovered while I was riding the Empire Builder from St. Paul to Portland. I found a copy wedged between Amtrak seat cushions. And there was an ancient photo of piled corpses as far as the eye could see. The papers euphemistically used the term leftists. But I know the history, I did the research.

They were almost all anarchists.

However lovely America may be. Remember, the US government is not our friend. It will never be. It can never be.

— William Gillis, Human Iterations (2008-05-22): Mass Graves