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Thinking Seriously While There Is Still Time: Classical Economic Wisdom at the Eleventh Hour

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 “The rich man glories in his riches, because he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of the world….At the thought of this, his heart seems to swell and dilate itself within him, and he is fonder of his wealth, upon this account, than for all the other advantages it procures him.”-Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

 President Donald Trump’s jumbled economic policies, resembling his corona virus policies and public policies in general, remain fundamentally anecdotal and conspicuously incoherent. Because they are detached from any sound theoretical foundations,[1] these programs will be continually disruptive without adding any compensating benefits for the United States.  Lamentably, all this largely self-imposed economic dislocation is taking place at a time when rampant biological plague is quite literally decimating the American Republic.

This decimation is palpably sweeping, and includes precipitously rising population levels of food insecurity. In brief, under President Donald J. Trump, the United States is becoming an increasingly disadvantaged and sorely imperiled nation. Along certain explicit and authoritative criteria of taxonomic division or status-differentiation, we are now a “third world country.”

Irrefutably.

It is high time for appropriate warning bells to go off. It is finally time, therefore, to think seriously and to properly value serious thought. Though it has been more than two centuries since Adam Smith, a capable look back over his classical and well-catalogued insights would still be well advised. In terms of the pertinent parlance of contemporary social scientific classification, such a retrospective look would prove “cost-effective.”

Assuredly.

As is true for any other disciplined sphere of human study, the American economic realm is a product of antecedent thought. For better or for worse, this means not just self-centered considerations of money and finance, but rather the cumulative result of genuinely human and humane examinations. Always, moreover, these examinations must be premised upon the core idea of “system,” that is, on the persisting interrelatedness “of all things.”[2]

There is more.  Economics and the pandemic are inextricably intertwined; it would be foolish and futile, therefore, to expect any progress in the former without achieving corresponding scientific advances in the latter. In relevant philosophic terms, death is the prototype of all injustice –  including economic failure –  and American death rates during the current plague have had a great deal to do with prevailing distributions of national wealth. Contrary to Mr. Trump’s very curious sense of logic, death rates will not decline if the nation cuts back on Covid19 testing.  Indeed, that any single American with an elementary school education would be unable to recognize the overwhelming fallacy of such “logic” is altogether difficult to process.

There are overriding intellectual obligations here that warrant mention. Americans must go beyond the barren observations and clichés of current presidential policies; inter alia, this means purposefully recalling classical economic theory in its most densely-layered and meticulously nuanced content. Soon, we should look with suitably “modernized” detail at Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and also his better-known Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). To be sure, very few Trump-appointed policy makers or followers  actually read books – especially books that call for some serious analytic or scholarly exertions –  but there would still be some tangible recompense. This recollected scholarship would “pay for itself.”

Already, back in the 18th century, and quite plainly without benefit of any computers or electric light, Smith managed to examine certain bewilderingly complex elements of international trade within an impressively broad intellectual context.

Adam Smith knew many things. For one, he had already understood that thoughtful economic insights were not just about disjointed numbers or reassuringly growing  bank accounts. Wealth was not written to advance the monetary or social interests of one particular class over another. On the contrary, at a time when cultural and historical literacy were expected of European public commentators, he openly acknowledged the essential “oneness” of all human affairs.

This meant a core human singularity hailed, among others, by Marcus Aurelius, Lucretius and the Jewish Scriptures,[3] not to mention Hinduism and Buddhism.[4]

Without such an acknowledgment, Smith would have amounted to little more than the current crop of half-educated Trump commentators one is now forced to endure on television, in  the newspapers and online. Abjuring banalities, the seminal economic thinker from Scotland sought to understand genuinely intricate operations of society and the market place. More than likely, he would have agreed with German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s later instruction in Zarathustra not to seek the “higher man” at any place of commerce. In essence, Adam Smith took special pains to highlight the prospective errors of analytically-baseless protectionist strategies, most notably of tariffs that could very plausibly and quickly be reciprocated.

Most famously, of course, Smith identified an “invisible hand,” or a credible “convergence of satisfactions.” Together with such a markedly gainful fusion, he reasoned, the perpetual collisions of individual self-interest and the myriad interests of nations could somehow be reconciled. Moreover, in the trendy language of today’s career economists or financial managers, such reconciliations could eventually prove “optimal.”

But how might these classical insights help us today? What might this 18th-century stance on money and markets have to do with our present American economic system, a complex network functioning as part of a much larger worldwide economy and civilization? In part, the best answer must begin with the widespread American belief that accelerating consumption is per se indispensable to economic well-being – both individual and collective.

Though never a plutocrat, Smith had argued persuasively that certain arrangements of private wealth enhancement could at least permit the poor to live tolerably. Rejecting his contemporary Jean Jacques Rousseau’s fully contrary position –  that is, that “the privileged few…gorge themselves with superfluities, while the starving multitude are in want of the bare necessities of life” –  he foresaw in capitalism not just an enviably rising productivity, but also the necessary foundations for an enduring political liberty. Naturally, whether or not he was actually correct in this assessment depends pretty much upon who exactly is being queried.

 Karl Marx had offered a plainly alternate view to Smith’s general optimism concerning capitalism. From his own formal disciplinary framework – a multi-layered academic context that was fashioned with intellectual underpinnings and a corollary analytic dexterity (this point is frequently overlooked amid the visceral chorus of dismissals shouted by American politicians, especially those who could never make it through even a single page of Capital) –  Marx had seen in capitalism a hideously corrosive source of  personal defilement and communal self-destruction.

 In his own time, Adam Smith was undaunted by any determinedly specious political arguments that were detached from core considerations of intellect. By applying various capitalistic modes of production and exchange, he asserted, an inextinguishable social inequality might still be favorably reconciled with measurable increments of human progress. In those especially troubling cases where the prevailing facts could have taken him in variously different directions, we may presently assume, he would have felt bound to accept certain corresponding modifications of his own basic theories.

Conspicuously, even among US President Donald Trump’s most senior economic advisors,  there is no Adam Smith, not one who is even close intellectually. However much these shamelessly servile advisors may seek to wrap themselves in the presumed propagandistic messages of Wealth, they wittingly ignore the daunting depth and visible exertions of Smith’s conceptual thought. Unsurprisingly, in light of their almost uniformly undistinguished academic  credentials, they freely disregard that Adam Smith’s preferred system of “perfect liberty” can never be consistent with narrowly partisan encouragements of crude and feveredaccumulation.

Back when the United States was born, on a date that coincides exactly with publication of Wealth, Adam Smith already understood what present-day Trump trade policies so blatantly disregard. This is the fact that certain inexorable laws of the marketplace, driven by a natural human competition, demand a principled disdainfor all vanity-driven consumption. It’s not a particularly complicated set of laws; nonetheless, it does call for some modicum of intellectual exertion.

 Adam Smith could never have abided a Black Friday-type “conspicuous consumption,” a phrase that would later be used more popularly and more effectively by sociologist Thorsten Veblen. This especially vulgar species of consumption, one driven by variously recalcitrant cravings related to assorted feelings of individual self-worth, ought never expect to become a rational engine for economic or wider social improvement. This still crucial point should resonate loudly and instructively with all who could still heap gratuitous praise upon a White House that equates personal success with the elicited envy of others. 

To be sure, the Trump White House makes its principal stand upon precisely such a humiliating equation. Reciprocally, at a moment when substantive wealth gaps in the United States augur fundamentally undemocratic odds of living and dying, Donald Trump’s endlessly committed supporters stay “loyal” for one presumed reason above all others. This is the notion that their own personal economic success – including the “elicited envy of others” – requires another four years of Trumpian ant-reason.

In essence, this means another four years of communal citizen disdain for more serious and challenging thought.

There is more. Under no imaginable circumstances could Adam Smith have championed a system of consumption premised on the demeaning notion that material acquisition ought to stem from a craven wish to impress other people.

 Although Adam Smith had already understood the psychological and economic dynamics of “conspicuous consumption,” he also feared and even loathed these dynamics. From his personal point of view, it was entirely reasonable that the marketplace should routinely regulate the price and quantity of available goods according to certain unchanging and “natural” arbiters of public demand. This marketplace, he had urged accordingly, should never be manipulated from above, by governments,  and by way of deceptively manipulative policies.

Now, in the withering declensions of Donald Trump’s dissembling rule,[5] America is losing all residual sight of Adam Smith’s “natural liberty.” In vain, this nation still attempts to construct a viable economic posture upon great oceans of shallow slogans and on twisting rivers of hideously empty witticisms. At their core, our derivative national problems of orchestrated trade barriers and manipulated hyper-consumption are not primarily economic. Rather, as Smith would himself have warned, because they are spurred on by seemingly ineradicable personal doubts of self-worth and self-esteem, these problems should be examined at a more appropriately psychological level.

But who today even wants to undertaken such an examination?

All Americans already believe, and more or less directly, that our national economic efforts must be oriented toward status-based purchasing.  Oddly enough, however, disregarding Adam Smith altogether, almost no one seeks to inquire: “What sort of society can we ultimately expect from an economic system that is based  upon feverish social imitation and on absolutely crass conformance”?  The answer in part, is a flaccid society of “mass,” a disordered and disordering amalgam of unreasoning people who are no longer thinking individuals.[6] 

Hence, we elect Donald J. Trump.

Writing in the middle of the nineteenth century, the American Transcendentalist philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, had remarked presciently on  “self-reliance.” Any foolish “reliance upon property,” Emerson warned, is the predictable result of a “want of self-reliance.” What suitable corrective was needed? Emerson had answered succinctly, and without any discernible hesitation: “High thinking and plain living.”

How far have we now come from this once hopeful conjunction? Today, the relentlessly conformist call of American mass society remains loud, manipulative and seemingly persuasive. This is especially the case under the aegis of a president who is conducting ceaseless and systematic war upon intellect, education and all vulnerable elements of genuine learning. “I love the poorly educated,” said Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign. “Intellect  rots the  brain,” said Third Reich Minister of Propaganda in 1934.

The true difference between these sentiments is not as great as might first be presumed.

In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith noted that human beings are not made any happier by their possessions, but that the rich, in seeking the “gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires,” may still advance the “interest of society.” With remarkable originality, therefore, Smith explained, the wealthiest members of the nation, without ever consciously intending any such generalized benefit, “are led by an invisible hand” to bring forth necessary reductions in social inequality.  

Back in the 18th century, however, Adam Smith would likely have shuddered with any foreknowledge of today’s brutally callous system of American economic exchange, not only because he would have been unsympathetic to the self-seeking supporters of such an injurious plutocracy, but also because he recognized the implacable consequences of any market theory founded upon  delusion. As long as our American economy remains animated, at its core, by rabid conspicuous consumption and by generally correlative trade wars, an accelerating process of class/cultural  warfare will be our sole driving narrative. As long as we inhabit a society that. at least in significant part, takes an evident pride in a presumptive presidential infallibility and a doctrinaire anti-intellectualism,[7] disease and economic dislocation will not merely coincide.

They will crush out any tangibly discernible remnants of a once-promising American civilization.[8]

Looking ahead to the November 2020 election, Donald Trump will remain fixedly intent upon garnering “the attention of the world.” Among many other grievous consequence of this president’s incoherent war against intellect and thought, this childlike objective will undermine America’s economy, safety and national security at the same time. Though Adam Smith could likely never have imagined any such far-reaching impairments spawned by crudely self-centered national goals, the largely unexamined synergies of pandemic and anti-reason could prove authentically lethal to the United States.

Perhaps even sooner rather than later.

At this fearful moment, when plague and nuclear war could erupt more-or-less simultaneously, the “whole” of  any American catastrophic outcome could far exceed the mere sum of its grievous “parts.” In the end, learning from Adam Smith, warnings about this portentous product could be anything but hyperbole. As always, thinking seriously is indispensable,[9] but such thinking must also always be undertaken in advance, “while there is still time.”

Very few “loyal” followers of Donald J. Trump could conceivably read and understand Adam Smith, but there is still abundant cause for the broader American society to favor Reason over further presidential manipulation and contrivance. Failure to understand this utterly vital obligation during a time of disease pandemic and economic uncertainty could prove not just discomfiting. It could also be abundantly lethal.


[1] “Theory is a  net,” we may learn from the German poet  Novalis, “only those who cast, can catch.” Later, this statement was famously cited by philosopher Karl Popper in his path breaking

work, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Eng. tr., 1959).

[2] “The existence of ‘system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature,” says French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man, “no  matter whom….Each element of the cosmos is positively woven from all the others….”

[3] “The earth from which the first man was made was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”  (Talmud.)

[4] Apropos of such unassailable “oneness,”  we may learn from Epictetus, the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher, “You are a citizen of the universe.” A still-broader idea of human singularity followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality” or interconnectedness. By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide secular background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Here, only in its relationship to the universe itself, was the world considered as a part rather than a whole. Says Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, the idea of human oneness can and should be fully

justified/explained in more purely historical/philosophic terms of human understanding.

[5] One ought not to set aside the single most fearful risk of such undisciplined rule, the risk of a catastrophic nuclear war by mistaken or calculated Trump decision. See, by this writer, Louis René Beres, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  https://thebulletin.onuclear rg/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/  See also, by Louis René Beres, https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/ (Pentagon).

[6] As we may learn from Swiss psychologist and philosopher Carl G. Jung in The Undiscovered Self (1957): “The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.” At this point of almost fevered US citizen surrender to impresario Donald  J. Trump, a time also of ravaging disease pandemic, it is no longer difficult to imagine such a sweeping social downfall.

[7]  Twentieth century German writer  and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann would have called Trump a lethal champion of anti-reason, an aspiring “Fuehrer,” a sinister “magician.” See, on this extrapolation, Mann’s classic novella on the rise of Nazism, “Mario and the Magician” (1929). Regarding the post-Nazi idea of “anti-reason,” see too Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952). Thinking originally of Adolph Hitler, but still perfectly applicable these days to Donald Trump, is the German philosopher’s generic and timeless warning: “Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no argument, and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition….” Apropos of  this warning, at the end of July 2020, literally millions of Americans were openly describing the Covid19 pandemic as a “hoax.”

[8] This brings to mind a timely warning by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, in The New Spirit and the Poets (1917): “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” In the expansively demeaning time of Trump, such an allowance has not only been tolerated. Now, nationally, it has been made de rigueur.

[9] “All our dignity,” says Pascal in his Pensées, “consists in thought. It is upon this that we must depend….Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Among past American presidents, such sentiments would have been most conspicuously shared by Thomas Jefferson. Said the nation’s third chief executive: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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The Indignant Politics of America’s Mass Shootings

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Why do mass shootings garner the lead stories in the news cycle? Could it be the sudden cluster of deaths alone? Perhaps it is the public fascination over a shooter plotting evil or to illicit political theatre where finger pointing, blaming far-right ideology, chalking it up to mental illness, or creating a stir over the demise of the 2nd Amendment and government taking our guns.

These narratives would seem too simplistic for well-educated lawmakers obfuscating their responsibility by playing into an uncompromising political base rather than demonstrating a bipartisan effort to solving problems. Does the clinging to power in the legislature somehow become more imperative than the pains felt when facing the end of a barrel. In retrospect, lawmakers might ponder one of Mother Teresa’s favorite texts in the bible, which she often quoted to support her ministry, is “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me”.

To avoid fecal mudslinging over attempts to find common ground with political rivals or facing noisy garden-variety cynicism that it is possible to move the needle, courage will be required to grasp the big picture of gun violence and understand critical facts to create value in building trust across the aisle. According to the data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), America is on track this year to be the second highest year for mass shootings with 607 mass shootings through November 22 against a total of 690 in 2021 (GVA defines a mass shooting where at least four people are shot excluding the shooter).

While 637 deaths and 3,179 people shot in mass shootings so far in 2022 is abhorrent, there has been a stark total of 40,373-gun violence deaths in the US this year as of Nov. 29. A total of 21,978 of these deaths were suicides whereas 18,395 comprise of homicides, unintentional, and defensive use.

For those wondering about racism in law enforcement by the likes of Black Lives Matter and the far left defund the police efforts, 62 officers have been killed in the line of duty so far this year with 769 subjects shot dead or injured in police situations.

About 40% of Americans now own firearms where 18% of American households purchased a gun during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 5% of US adults bought a gun for the first time. The question that bares asking is why the increase in purchases. Could it be State AG’s allowing criminals to walk or no-bail for violent crimes only to reoffend and commit further harm and death? What about worried citizens who are fearful of the millions of immigrants illegally crossing the southern border, or the Antifa riots that caused mayhem, death, and destruction with little to no police response to protect neighborhoods and businesses. With Americans being killed at the highest rate in 30 years, they are now packing more than ever to protect their families in what may feel like a purge.  

Let’s dig deeper into the starkest gun violence statistic. Black Americans are disproportionately more likely to be killed by a gun with the most vulnerable ages 25-45. According to the CDC, 6,600 were shot dead in this category or at an astonishing 54.43 per 100,000 people. Blacks aged 10-24 years did not fare well either at 4,347 killed or 48.80 per 100,000. By comparison, white people came in at 1,918 or 3.91 per 100,000 in the older group and 653 or 1.97 per 100,000 in the younger bracket.

Clearly, black on black violence is a huge problem that is not being addressed or focused on by the media or political leaders. On the heels of the media coverage and President Biden’s repeated mass shooting comments to ban guns following the terrible mass shootings at the Wal-Mart in Virginia leaving six people dead and five people dead three days earlier in a shooting rampage at a nightclub in Colorado, there were 31 people shot and 6 killed across Chicago the following Thanksgiving weekend. These combined shootings amount to mass shootings taking place every weekend in dystopian-like enclaves in Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, and New York to name a few. Where is the media coverage and why are these predominately black neighborhoods allowed to fall into tyranny?

To make the case for Republican bipartisanship support to work towards reducing guns in the wrong hands, the Democrats will need to reciprocate on the most glaring killer facing America. According to the CDC, fentanyl is now the leading cause of death among US adults (ages 18-45); more than Covid-19. Fentanyl, the cheap to produce and easy to transport killer that is 100 times stronger than morphine, has seen deaths nearly double in two years from 32,754 in 2019 to 64,178 in 2021.

The cartels in Mexico producing the candy-colored drug in super labs purchase the ingredients and chemicals from China. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) say they are combating the problem; however, their actions are profoundly incompetent with the substance crossing a porous border with Mexico. It is unconscionable that the Biden Administration does not use every tool to pressure China to stop the exports to the cartels and it is a crime by China who can lock down a population of over a billion people over Covid yet fail to prevent these shipments. China is an accomplice to mass killings in the US.

According to the FAA, there is an average of 64.4 passengers per domestic flights in the US. The number of fentanyl deaths would be equivalent to three passenger aircraft going down with all onboard perishing in the crash. Would American politicians not call for the immediate grounding of all flights until there were assurances that no further loss of life was at peril. Should the human mules coming across the southern border not also be halted with the same sense of urgency to save over 190 lives every day from fentanyl?

No one person has the answers to nation-wide epidemics of gun violence and the fentanyl crisis. First, it begins with leadership to turn off what seems to be an incurable pathology to assign blame. The unfounded white supremacy is divisive rhetoric while claiming the 2nd Amendment to bear arms is at risk. It is simply untrue. Progress will have a greater chance of success if the small but loud voices are sidelined, contributions from influential lobbies are refused, and the media covers the big picture.  

Politician can no longer wait to act on the comprehensive measures. Just ask black Americans if they want to defund police and see active enforcement and protection in their neighborhoods. There needs to be a focus on cultural and social factors, guidance counseling and education that focuses on responsibility in the family and community. Gun shops need to uphold current laws when selling firearms, and gun ownership should require at minimum to attend and pass a course on firearm safety that could prevent a deranged shooter from purchasing a gun prior to carrying out a mass shooting. Finally, if the Mexico government is not going to do the job, the DEA needs to forcibly remove fentanyl super labs making the killer poison. Time to get to work.

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Joe Vogler and the Alaskan Independence Party: The Last Secession Attempt in the United States

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The political system in the U.S is characterized by a bipolar system of division between the Democratic and the Republican Party. As a result, independent parties are hardly noticed and barely manage to scrap votes in the elections. However, independent parties in the U.S have been around since the creation of the nation and some of their leaders have gone as far as pursuing to secede from the federal government of the U.S. Joe Vogler was an Alaskan politician that rallied a major nationalistic movement in Alaska for the state to secede from the U.S. Although his actions did not bear any fruits, his creation of the Alaskan Independence Party opened the door to interesting questions and political theories. Is it possible for an independent party to hold major power in the U.S, and how much influence do the independent parties have in one of the most politically divided countries in the world?

Joe Vogler: An Alaskan nationalist from Kansas

Joe Vogler was born on April 24, 1913, in Kansas, U.S. In 1942, he moved to Alaska where he worked as a civilian employee of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers in Fairbanks. Although he graduated with a law degree from the University of Kansas, his move to Alaska demonstrated his humble beginnings and love for a more traditional lifestyle away from the metropolises of America. Besides working construction in military bases, Vogler was involved in the development of real estate and mining in Alaska.

Described by his admirers as a stand-up, no-nonsense man, Vogler started his early nationalist views of an independent Alaska in the early 1970s, where he frequently wrote letters to editors in newspapers, calling for Alaska to secede from the federal government of the U.S. In 1973, he founded the Alaskans for Independence organization to label his petition drive to secede from America. In 1984, he founded the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), which he led for almost a decade until his sudden disappearance and death in 1993.

The Alaskan Independence Party: Libertarian conservatism at its finest

The Alaskan Independence Party (AIP) gained momentum in the early 1980s when Joe Vogler founded the party with a clear focus on the independence of Alaska from the United States. The ideology of the party is a mix of Alaskan nationalism and libertarian conservatism. It is easy to see where Alaskan nationalism comes from and why it was advocated. As one of the largest states in the U.S, Alaska has immense mineral and oil wealth, with the oil and gas industries being the largest component in the state. Almost 85% of the state budget is supplied by oil revenues. Not to mention that Alaska has an important geopolitical position, being isolated from the continental U.S and sharing a maritime border with the Russian Federation.

The position of Alaska on the world map is a very strategic one and a major advantage in trading, fishing, and mining. Marie Francis, a writer from Southcentral Alaska and a registered member of AIP shares the same views as many Alaskans who advocate for the independence of their state. In her own words as posted in the Anchorage Daily News she describes how beneficial would be the actual secession of Alaska for the people that live there, who many times feel abandoned by the federal government due to their small population. “As the U.S. engages in trade wars, an independent Alaska would make international trade agreements on our terms. Our geographic position at the top of the Pacific grants us access to Asian and North American markets, and as Arctic shipping lanes open in the decades to come, European markets. Currently, we are relegated to the position of a dejected American outpost, yet almost all air cargo being transported between the United States and Asia flows through Ted Stevens Intl. Airport. Alaska’s economic potential is much greater than what the U.S. allows” (Anchorage Daily News, Marie Francis).

The last sentence by Marie Francis reveals the nature of the U.S government taking full advantage of the position and natural resources of Alaska while at the same time disregarding the voices of the Alaskan population simply because of their low population compared to the other 49 states of America. When people of a particular geographical area feel isolated from their government in a metaphorical and literal sense and find unity under the same cause, isn’t that a classic recipe for a nationalistic independence movement?

Regarding the philosophical ideology of the party, we can see many similarities with other political parties in the U.S, like the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party. The primary ideology is based on traditional American values such as the right to bear arms, privatization away from the sphere of public sectors, and of course limited government interference. These particular American values are mixed with a libertarian conservatism philosophy that advocates among many things, the maximum economic liberty for the people, combined with the minimum government regulation of economic and social life. Although on many occasions this political and social philosophy is mirroring classical liberalism, what distinguishes it is the focus on American values and a sense of morality and duty toward the idea of free and independent people from any form of government regulations.

Margaret Randall, an American writer and academic describes the notion of libertarian conservatism as an expression of personal freedom and individualism, the same ideology that can be found in the early works of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was an American naturalist and philosopher, mostly known for his advocation of individualism and limitation of the power that the American government had at that time. His book Civil Disobedience (1849), argues that any form of progress comes from the ingenuity of the people not from the government, and as a result, the best thing for any government to do is to let the people govern themselves and flourish. He concludes that the best government is one that does not govern at all. It is easy to connect the ideological position of the AIP with the notion of Alaskan nationalism, as both the ideology and the practical implementation of its positions reveal a mix of liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, naturalism, and a strong apathy for any form of government that wishes to control the individuality of its local population.

Joe Vogler’s controversial views and sudden disappearance

Joe Vogler made a couple of unsuccessful bids for public office, with the first one being back in 1974, when he ran for governor of Alaska, only to lose by a large margin to Jay Hammond who represented the Republican Party. After that, in 1978, he tried to run as a lieutenant governor alongside Don Wright, only to lose again to Jay Hammond. He made two last attempts to run as a governor in 1982 and 1986, but his efforts did not result in a positive outcome. Although none of his efforts resulted in a victory, Vogler still had quite a few thousand supporters that rallied behind his nationalistic cause. His libertarian rhetoric appealed to many Alaskans that felt that indeed they are being exploited and overlooked by the U.S government. He was extremely un-American in a political sense and a harsh critic of all the government institutions that he felt had no place in the state that he envisioned.

On May 30, 1993, Joe Vogler suddenly disappeared, just a couple of weeks before he addressed the United Nations on the issue of Alaskan independence. A close friend called the authorities after not hearing from him for a couple of days. An investigation took place to find him. After a couple of months of unsuccessful attempts to find Vogler, a man called the authorities informing them that a suspicious truck with a bullet hole at the back was seen at Fairbanks at the same time that Vogler disappeared. The man driving the truck was identified and was taken into custody. Manfried West immediately confessed to the murder of Joe Vogler. He claimed that Vogler wanted to buy plastic explosives from him, and when the deal went wrong he shot Vogler and buried him. After almost a year, an anonymous tip revealed the location of Vogler’s body. He was buried in a shallow grave outside Fairbanks. West was convicted of 80 years of prison time and currently serves his time at the Palmer Correctional Facility in Sutton.

Joe Vogler’s sudden disappearance and murder did not sit well with a lot of people affiliated with AIP, who felt that his death was an execution and that Manfried West was hired to do the job. These speculations seem to fit the narrative that Vogler’s death was not just a  deal that went wrong. It is important to mention that Vogler managed to gain the support of Iran to sponsor his speech at the U.N. At that time, relations between the two states had deteriorated right after the Persian Gulf War when Iran was accused of trying to replace Iraq as the most dominant power in the Gulf. By 1992, under the Bush Administration, Congress had passed the Iran-Iraq Nonproliferation Act, sanctioning specific materials that could be used for the development of advanced weaponry. As a result, Iran’s support to Joe Vogler would have been an embarrassment for the U.S if he managed to speak at the podium at the U.N.

In addition, Vogler, throughout his political career had made a lot of enemies and powerful people back in Washington D.C did not see his intentions as just an effort to secede from the U.S. By the time his political career started, the Cold War was still at its peak and the competition with the Soviet Union was the most serious matter that affected the whole globe. Vogler was accused by many, of being a socialist, and people in D.C were worried that his views may find support back in Moscow, who could seek to find an opportunity to have closer relations with an independent Alaska. We might never find the truth about Vogler’s death and the people responsible for it, but we can only speculate that powerful people in the political arena of the U.S would not have been happy if Vogler was allowed to speak at the United Nations.

The Alaskan Independence Party today and the future of independent parties in the U.S

Although Joe Vogler himself was unsuccessful in holding a public office in Alaska, that doesn’t mean that the AIP was also unsuccessful. In 1990, as Vogler was serving as a chair to the party, he supported Wally Hickel, a businessman and a member of the AIP who managed to get elected as the governor of Alaska on the Independence Party ticket, making the AIP one of the few third parties that had managed to hold public office in the U.S. However, after the death of Vogler, the party lost some of its power and will to continue fighting for an independent Alaska.

Today the Alaskan Independence Party remains the third most powerful party in the state of Alaska. According to its official website, AIP now has almost 19.000 registered members, nearly 25% of the size of the Democratic Party in Alaska. Remaining true to their goals until this day, members of AIP continue to challenge the authorities in D.C and demand that their voices be heard. As Marie Francis mentions in her opinion piece for the Anchorage Daily News: “We are receiving fewer favors from the federal government, and I firmly believe an independent Alaskan government would manage a better budget that would provide for all. As civil welfare programs are cut, the federal defense budget has been fluffed. We are being exploited by a government thousands of miles away for military purposes. The dignity of autonomy is not granted to more than 700,000 people. Secession would grant Alaskans the freedom to determine their destiny without federal oversight. I encourage my fellow Alaskans to discuss the endless possibilities and consider the Alaskan Independence Party”.

Independent political parties in the U.S have a long history of engagement in U.S politics. Although they are not always successful their presence is still visible in local and nationwide elections. Apart from the Alaskan Independence Party, other political parties across the U.S have made their presence calling for independence or greater autonomy. For example, there is the Independent Party Of Delaware, the third largest party in the state with almost 10.000 people registered with it. Also, the Aloha ʻĀina Party in Hawaii advocates for the independence of Hawaii from the U.S and a greater focus on traditional Hawaiian cultural values. The list goes on and on with political parties and movements across the U.S, in California, Texas, Florida, Vermont, Montana, Minnesota, etc.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly four-in-ten U.S. adults (38%) identify as politically independent, but most “lean” toward one of the two major parties. This goes to show that although the presence of third parties is still active, people are not very keen on voting for them. Is it because their stance on certain issues is not appealing, or is it because the media is so focused on dividing the country between red and blue that any chance of reviewing or analyzing any other party’s position would be immediately suppressed? Joe Vogler used to say the same phrase whenever asked about his ideological stance: “I’m an Alaskan, not an American. I’ve got no use for America or her damned institutions”. How possible would it be for more politicians to come out and say I am a Californian, not an American, or I am a Texan and I’ve got no use for America or her damned institutions?

In politics nothing is unlikely and the possibility of these movements gaining more recognition and support may come sooner than we expect. With the incompetence of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party and the controversy around Donald Trump and the Republican Party, people in the U.S may realize that they need to look elsewhere for solutions. Maybe they will realize that the democratic system that they so much praise and demonstrate around the world, is just a fallacy of democracy with two parties representing the same goals with different colors.

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Americas

Canada’s Indo Pacific strategy

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Image source: saltwire.com

Canada’s Foreign Minister, Melanie Joly released the North American country’s vision for the Indo-Pacific on November 27, 2022.  Canada’s Indo Pacific strategy is 26 pages in length, and it has earmarked Canadian $ 2.6 billion (US $ 1.9 billion) for funding in the Indo-Pacific region. Through the strategy, Canada seeks to play its role of promoting peace and security in the Indo Pacific region by; investing in security and intelligence networks and cybersecurity infrastructure in the Indo Pacific, strengthening Canada’s trade with the region, building natural resource linkages between Canada and Indo-Pacific countries and to strengthen people to people links between Canadian citizens and those of Indo-Pacific countries.

The Canadian Foreign Minister, while unveiling the strategy highlighted the economic importance of the Indo-Pacific region while also stating that:

 “Every issue that matters to Canadians, our national security, our economic prosperity, democratic values, climate change or again human rights will be shaped by the relationship Canada has with Indo-Pacific countries.”

The strategy lays immense emphasis on enhancing trade ties with India, East Asia and Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. To achieve the objective of greater trade with the region, Canada will appoint an Indo-Pacific trade representative (the vision also seeks to set up Canada’s first agricultural office in the region with the aim of increasing agricultural exports to the region).  In comparison to the vision of other western countries and Australia, there is a strong thrust in Canada’s Indo Pacific strategy on giving a boost to people-to-people linkages with the region. It would be pertinent to point out, that Canada is home to not just a large Indian expat community, but that Indian nationals account for the largest group within the international community (this point has been flagged in Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy as well)

China factor

While Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy cannot be linked to any one factor, but there is no doubt, that one of the key factors for Canada to focus on the Indo-Pacific is to reduce economic dependence upon China, and also find common ground with other countries becoming increasingly vary of Chinese expansionism. The 26page document released by Canada dubbed China a ‘disruptive power’, while also arguing that China seeks to ‘disregard’ norms and values by which it has risen. Says the strategy:

“China is looking to shape the international order into a more permissive environment for interests and values that increasingly depart from ours.”

In recent years, like many other western countries, Canada’s ties with China have gone downhill. Tensions began to emerge after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou Chief Financial officer of Huawei in 2018, while China retaliated by arresting two Canadian nationals of spying (all three individuals were released last year). In 2020, Canada had also shelved its trade deal with China. Then Canadian Foreign Minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne while commenting on differences with China had said:

“I do not see the conditions being present now for these discussions to continue at this time. The China of 2020 is not the China of 2016”.

Recently, Ottawa has also accused China of interfering in the domestic politics of Canada. Canada accuses China of providing financial support to 11 candidates in the North American nation’s federal elections of 2019. Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau had raised this issue with Xi Jinping during his meeting with the latter on the sidelines of the G20 Summit at Bali last month. Chinese President Xi Jinping had expressed his displeasure with Trudeau of leaking details of the meeting to the media.

Canada’s Indo Pacific strategy also seeks to prevent Chinese investments in areas linked to ‘national security’. The 26 page document stated that Canada would come up with legislation which would enable it to act:

‘decisively when investments from state-owned enterprises and other foreign entities threaten our national security including our critical mineral supply chains’

Canada had recently asked three Chinese companies to divest from the country’s mining companies citing security reasons.

The Canadian Foreign Minister, Melanie Joly said that while the strategy sought to safeguard Canada’s interest it was pragmatic. The strategy does refer to the need for cooperation with China on issues such as climate change, global health and nuclear proliferation.  In conclusion, Canada’s Indo Pacific strategy while focusing on economics, has a clear security component. Canada like the US, UK and Australia recognizes the need to reduce economic dependence upon China, and to keep a close watch on Beijing’s interference in Canada’s domestic affairs. The meeting between US President, Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the side-lines of the G20 Summit as well as Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy do reiterate, that in spite of all the differences with China, western countries will seek to avoid the emergence of a ‘new cold war’ with China and to engage on issues such as climate change.

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