pilot-zaharie-ahmad-shah-malaysia-airlinesIn 1997, La Jolla, California, Howard Mitchell, a 67 year old commercial pilot and former naval aviator took his Cessna out for one last flight.  He had recently experienced a series of personal calamities: his friend had become paralyzed in a hang gliding accident, a hobby that Mitchell had introduced to him; his mother had just died, and he himself had just survived a heart attack, which was likely going to cause him to lose his FAA medical clearance. Mitchell first circled Mount Soledad, a prominent San-Diego war-memorial-landmark with a giant white cross on the top. Then he steered the plane out into the Pacific.  As Charles O’Rourke reports: “[He] performed some aerobatic maneuvers, and then nosed over in a steep dive and crashed into the Pacific Ocean about one mile from the coastline.”

Mitchell’s case is not unique. Pilots who become stressed, despondent, resentful or mentally unbalanced will occasionally decide to leave this world  doing what they love.  Sometimes, they crash into something that has symbolic significance to them – a mountain they know or a building relevant to their life.  Other times, they will fly until they run out of fuel.  Frequently, they try dangerous maneuvers.  That freedom and exhilaration that accompanies the act of piloting would only ignite and blaze in a pilot’s last suicidal flight  – when all aviation rules may be discarded and danger is no object.

Even after the first two days of the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370, it became obvious to many that the most probable explanation was pilot-culpability.  And the reason is simply that all other possible alternatives — whether a sudden, massive catastrophe or a terrorist-hijacking — had soon become wildly improbable.  Typically during emergencies, pilots can always communicate some sort of problem – and it is rare that so many communication systems would break down at nearly the same time. If one assumes an explosive calamity then investigators knew exactly when and where it happened and it should have been raining aluminum all over South China Sea.  The longer it took to find any debris, the more likely it was that someone deliberately flew the plane somewhere else.

But if these nefarious-pilots were terrorist- hijackers, then where were they? Why didn’t they immediately crash into any one of the many cities in the region? If they managed a successful kidnapping, where are the demands?  And if they crashed somewhere else, why? Why would they go through the trouble of secretly taking over a flight only to change its crash location?  A terrorist’s main goal, of course, is to terrorize not mystify.  Perhaps, most significantly, the plane diverged right after leaving Malaysian air-space, right in the dead-space between Malaysian and Vietnamese air-traffic-controller responsibility.  This would give maximum time before controllers would realize there is a problem, but how could the hypothetical hijackers have known when the pilot signed off with Malaysia?

This is why some who are familiar with pilot-suicides happened upon the likely explanation within two days. So while the media was focusing on lithium batteries, stolen passports, cabin depressurization, cockpit takeovers and hidden runways – and as the Malaysian, Chinese, and U.S. Navies were searching the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca  – there were a few who argued, bluntly: “It’s suicide-by-joyriding-pilot; he went deep into the Indian.”

What were the passengers doing or copilot? Well, the pilot may may have simply asked the copilot to check something in the cabin, perhaps claiming there was a suspicious passenger, and then locked him out.  The cockpit door is essentially unbreakable. Also, the plane apparently went up to 45000 feet very quickly. If the pilot depressurized the cabin too, the passengers all would have died soon of hypoxia.

Most aviation experts, at least those interviewed by newspapers and news shows, likely did not foresee this explanation because of the circumstances of the two other known pilot-suicides on commercial airlines.  In both the 1997 SilkAir crash in a flight between Singapore and Jakarta and in a 1999 EgyptAir flight 990 that plunged into the Atlantic, there was no wandering.  The pilots in each case just forced the jet into an uncontrolled dive.  But this was pre-9/11, when cockpit doors were not reinforced and the possibility of a single pilot taking complete control of a plane was implausible.  Today, it is possible.  And in other instances, desperate and suicidal pilots, and particularly those obsessed with flying, have wanted to take that one last journey and control the skies.  Perhaps, they want to try some extreme maneuvers and push the plane while freeing themselves from pre-determined flight-plans and the watchful gaze of flight-controllers.  Mitchell was not only a prior naval aviator and a commercial airline pilot but flew Cessnas as a hobby. Captain Zaharie not only flies for a living, but had built himself a massive and intricate, three-screen flight simulator  — essentially an entire, fully loaded cockpit — so he could fly while at home too.  Of course, there is an oceanic difference between Mitchell and the mass-murderer responsible for Malaysia Flight 370, but the relevant point here is the “one last flight” mentality among some suicidal pilots obsessed with flying.  The MH370 vehicle was, after all, a world-class $200 million Boeing 777 — and Zaharie wanted to die with it.

In 1997, Captain Craig D. Button, a United States Air Force pilot flying an A-10 “Warthog” in Arizona unexpectedly “vanished.”  He broke a three-plane V-formation and just flew away. And he turned his transponder off.  Investigators and the press were mystified for a few days, but eventually they were able to determine what happened.  Radar picked up his plane flying northeast toward Colorado. He maneuvered around weather and zig-zagged for a bit, flying till he was almost out of gas. He chose a scenic spot to die, crashing into Gold Dust Peak, in the mountainous ski-resorts near Eagle Colorado.  He had been travelling with four live 500 pound bombs but they were never found. William Cohen, then Secretary of Defense, said about the disappearance that it was “a mystery, inside an enigma, wrapped in a riddle.”

When we learn more about these situations, they will cease to become so mysterious. And certainly from now on, aviation investigators will never again neglect for so long the possibility that a similar vanishing may be the result of “suicide-by-joyriding-pilot.”

— Dennis McCarthy is the author of “Here Be Dragons.”


Of course libertarians focus on the use of force against peaceful people — as that is the only criterion we use to judge laws. The simple fact is: You either want to make something voluntary or you support forceful coercion. There is no third choice.

An intelligent and kind-hearted friend of mine recently expressed frustration at what he thought was my repeated implications that “everyone else wants jackbooted thugs standing on the necks of people.”  Of course, I did not say precisely that and do not believe that specifically, but I also do understand, given my references to “armed coercion of peaceful people,” how he got that impression. To be clear, I do know for a fact that all my friends on the left—and especially my favorite debating counterparts — Marshall, Ethan, Mark, and Andrew, etc. — are brilliant, knowledgeable and well-meaning thinkers who have carefully considered the issues and simply want to support the right kind of government that will bring the most aid, comfort, justice and prosperity to all citizens.  Indeed, I also know that they – and progressives in general over the last 50 years – have also been on the right side of history regarding the majority of their beliefs – particularly civil rights, gay rights, civil liberties, and their typical opposition to unnecessary wars.  Libertarians quite frequently marched alongside liberals on these issues – and do know that many who have opposed us have often done so for small-minded, mean-spirited, and petty reasons.

It is also certainly understandable why my friend believes my references to coercion in discussions about Obamacare are “out of proportion,” but that simply exposes an innocence of the entire philosophy of libertarianism and why we believe what we believe: In brief, the only real tenet that all libertarians follow is that they refuse to support threats of violence, imprisonment or confiscation to bend peaceful people to their will.[1]  That’s it. This one over-ruling precept, in turn, informs you of the libertarian position on almost every law imaginable.  For in each instance, we ask the same question: Does it require the use of force – whether through confiscation or imprisonment — against peaceful dissenters who are victimizing no one else? Is it an effort of the state to bend peaceful populations to its will?  Yes, of course, we advocate the use of government force to protect victims — to stop crimes of murder, theft, fraud, and to prevent people from recklessly endangering or harming others, etc.  Yes, there are many good reasons to enlist the help of armed agents-– but one’s personal opinions on how citizens should behave or how states should run their economies is not sufficient cause to involve the gendarmes. If a law demands the state to harass peaceful people – whether it is stoners smoking pot in their basement; homosexuals who want to have a wedding ceremony; or Midwesterners who want to try free-market solutions  – then we support the people and oppose the law. In all peaceful situations, we are for reason, not force.

So while my friend does not dwell on the coercive aspect of the federal regulations he supports, this is the first and indeed only consideration of libertarians.  We did not rebel against the right of Massachusetts to implement its own version of Obamacare – as that was what its population wanted. But we protested the implementation of Obamacare nationally – forcing it on Texas, North Dakota, Kansas, etc. — whose populations vehemently opposed it and wanted to try other methods. Indeed, libertarians would also decry a national law that prohibits any state or town from trying Obamcare– even though most of us find it is economically naïve and ultimately harmful.

Thus, in the opinion of libertarians, the left has a blind spot regarding the state coercion required by their own economic views. They don’t like to think of how the government must deal with dissenters of the laws they advocate. But when looked at carefully, their support for federal enforcement of certain economic schemes, whether Obamacare or Single Payer or Mandatory Social Security, on millions of unwilling people is directly at odds with those personal attributes that the left usually esteems: the quality of being open-minded, non-coercive, universally tolerant, and antagonistic to force. Naturally, they have only good intentions.  Naturally, they think all these ideas will help society, but regardless of whether it is for the “people’s own good”, they still support forcing these views on reluctant populations. And when it is stated like that it is not easy to cover up its authoritarian core.  So typically leftists focus on the good; focus on what they imagine will be the beneficial results.

Federal agents typically lay siege to entrenched resisters to federal laws -- like the Browns of New Hampshire, who protested the federal income tax.

Federal agents typically lay siege to entrenched resisters to federal laws — like the Browns of New Hampshire, who protested the federal income tax.

Still, it is of course not true that the left “wants jackbooted thugs standing on the necks of people.” No, what the left really wants is for everyone to obey their decrees with no resistance – so that the armed agents remain out of sight and mind.  If only people would obey their dictums without fuss, they believe, the New Utopia would dawn. They simply do not like to think about resisters and dissenters – but resisters and dissenters there are – and they have to be pressed into line. Even the most arbitrary and nonsensical of regulations – such as the Los Angeles local regulation that hot-dog vending carts have two sinks — have resulted in the jailing of citizens.   Likewise, tax protesters are routinely captured and imprisoned – and sometimes a paramilitary force is required. Regarding Obamacare, we must ask ourselves what would happen if a state refused to implement it –and refused to allow federal agents to enforce the health insurance mandate on its citizens? This is not far-fetched.  A number of red-state legislatures did indeed pass resolutions to this effect. So then what next?  Do the left then want armed confrontation – an invasion of North Dakota? Several Maine towns, responding to frustrated local farmers, have declared food sovereignty and so immune to Federal regulations.  They want to be able to trade milk and poultry with their neighbors without having to build all the outbuildings and following all the big-farm specifications required by Washington D.C.  These towns have, in a sense, seceded.  So now what? Call in the armored vehicles?  My friends on the left never answer such questions – and typically express frustration that they are even asked.

My friend wrote that once one agrees we need some laws, then “everything beyond that, politically, is deciding which laws are just and which aren’t.”  Exactly. And libertarians believe that the only proper use of state force is defensive – that the only just laws are those that protect citizens. We think all laws that use the state to force opinions about economics, morality, personal health, etc. on peaceful dissenters are unjust.  So of course libertarians who discuss, say, Obamacare must stress it is coercive, for that is the only reason we oppose it.  My friend responds that this makes debate with libertarians on such issues “impossible.”  But that is not true.  The only problem is that if you want to think of yourself as tolerant and open-minded and a a gentle adherent to a live-and-let-live philosophy– and so are uncomfortable defending the fact that the law requires state coercion of peaceful and unwilling populations, then it just makes the debate extremely brief.

It is quite simple, you are either for using the state to compel your opinions on peaceful people or you are not. There is no third choice.

[1] The earlier description of libertarianism is the most succinct and powerful description of the liberty view of which I am aware and is a loose paraphrase of Dean Russell’s definition:   “In popular terminology, a libertarian is the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence—legal or illegal—to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person.”


“Lighter colors represent areas where children from low-income families are more likely to move up in the income distribution.” — Raj Chetty, et al.

A new study from researchers at Harvard and Berkeley (i.e.,, one in which researchers hoped to confirm faith in big government policies) has revealed that the Great Plains states are the ones that, far and away, provide the greatest economic opportunities for the poor. As clear from the figure above, all the lightest colors where the poor have the greatest income mobility run down the center of the nation, where state taxes, regulations, and government spending are low.  A more helpful, interactive figure appeared in a New York Times article on the subject, which shows the percentage “chance a child raised in the bottom fifth rose to the top fifth” for every county (or commuting area) in the U.S.  North Dakota, which is ranked the most economically free state in the nation, clearly dominates in this category — with not a single county under 10%, and many of them varying from 20% to 33%.  Other surrounding states — Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas — also abound with these regions of high-opportunity for the poor.  In comparison, the highest percentage in all of New England is 10.1 — which is essentially the lowest in North Dakota. Unfortunately, the New York Times reporter, Daved Leonhardts, almost seems like he wants to obscure this most conspicuous of facts about the data-map. Indeed, he only provides one general description of the data — and does so in a paragraph that, given the map above, needs to be read four times:

“Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data shows, with the odds notably low in Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus. By contrast, some of the highest rates occur in the Northeast, Great Plains and West, including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota.”

 Notice all the places the reporter refers to that have low income mobility are red-state regions (and the purple state of Ohio) — yet, while he does make a brief reference to “Great Plains” when referring  to “the highest rates,” he then drowns it in a sea of blue (“NY, Boston… Seattle, large swaths of California and Minnesota”). But this does great violence to the data map he uses to front his own article.  How can the reporter start with New York (9.7%) and Boston (9.8%) as an example of the “highest rates” in the country when every county in North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming has higher — typically much higher?  Indeed, many of the regions in the prairie states have twice to more than thrice the rates of New York and Boston, which when looked at nationally seem to have below average mobility rates.

Leonhardt also wrote, “Yet the parts of this country with the highest mobility rates — like Pittsburgh [10.3%], Seattle [10.4%]  and Salt Lake City [11.5%] — have rates roughly as high as those in Denmark and Norway, two countries at the top of the international mobility rankings.”  Well, if those rates are comparable to the rates of Denmark and Norway, then the regions of the Great Plains — and particularly Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and West Texas must lead the world.  Hong Kong has probably done better, but then again Hong Kong has even lower taxes and fewer regulations than North Dakota.

Finally, the map also confirms that income mobility for the poor is not a federal issue — and does not need a federal response.  Rather those regions with low or moderate income mobility for the poor — especially the deep south but also including the rust belt, the west and the northeast — should start trying to imitate the economic policies of the big sky states.

Melissa Harris-Perry on DetroitYes, she really said that. Yes, she said that the city of Detroit which has exclusively been under progressive Democratic rule for the last five decades, that has the highest taxes in Michigan, that has 10,000 employees and 20,000 unionized pensioners, that has been spending more than $100 million than it was taking in every year since 2008, that has been a big-government, union-crony, corrupt gulag for decades had a government that was too small. Here is Melissa Harris-Perry explaining other moments in history:

ImageMelissa Harris-Perry Roman Empire


Slowly roasting in Dante’s lowest circle of Hell, next to the murderers and thieves, are GOP insiders who preach small government when voting against Food Stamps but then support farm Subsidies for Big Ag.

In what may be the most egregious political act in many years, Republicans have just recently carved out food stamps from the Giant AgriBusiness Welfare  Farm Bill, then passed it — based, one supposes, on the theory that taxpayer handouts should be directed toward corporations not the poor. In fact, they *increased* the handouts! Some defenders may think the Farm subsidies go to Auntie Em in “The Wizard of Oz.” They actually go to Archer Daniels Midland and make it impossible for Auntie Em and other small farm owners to compete. Only 12 Republicans had the courage to vote against this, and then they wonder why they are polling worse than Aaron Hernandez. Daniel Mitchel wrote a powerful blog post on the political maneuver, and he in turn quotes an important passage by Ross Douthat in New York Times piece:

“It should go without saying that America’s agriculture policy has always been a terrible, stupid, counterproductive exercise in self-dealing cronyism. But when House Republicans severed the traditional connection, arbitrary but politically effective, between farm subsidies and food stamps, it briefly seemed like they were looking for an opportunity to put libertarian populist principle into practice, by separating both outlays in order to trim or reform both separately. But no — instead they were just making it easier for the party’s congressmen to vote for a bloated, awful big government program that benefits mostly-Republican states and interest groups, knowing that they weren’t also voting for something that pays out to the (mostly-Democratic) poor as well. This is egregious whatever you think of the food stamp program… Practically any conception of the common good, libertarian or communitarian or anywhere in between, would produce better policy than a factionally-driven approach of further subsidizing the rich.”


If you are running a quick errand, walking your children through a parking lot is significantly more dangerous than leaving them in the car for a few minutes.

Lenore Skenazy’s article today  in the Wall Street Journal — The Latest Suburban Crime Wave — exposes a recent spate of ridiculous arrests of parents who left their children in the car for a few minutes as they ran a quick errand: “One mother is hauled off to the police station. Another is clapped in handcuffs. The mothers’ offenses? They let their kids wait in the car while they ran a quick errand. Yes, these moms did just what yours probably did back when you were a kid.”  Skenazy is right that the arrests were absurd — and one of my favorite libertarians, Dan Mitchell, also denounced the over-reactions. Both emphasized the infinitesimal chance of kidnapping and heat stoke — and stressed that the latter almost exclusively occurs in a very different situation.  Quoting Skenazy:

“While the kidnapping fear is beyond absurd (doubters, please look up the stats), the heatstroke fear is based on the fact that cars do get hot. Just not in the time it takes to buy a gallon of milk. …each year about 40 children die of hyperthermia in automobiles. …But according a group that tracks these statistics, kidsandcars.org (“Love Them, Protect Them”), the overwhelming majority were either forgotten in the car for hours (54%) or climbed into an empty vehicle without anyone’s knowledge and got stuck (31%). This, in a country with 32 million children under age 8 taking billions of car trips annually. Any child’s death is a terrible tragedy. But the reflexive call to 911 the minute a child is spied alone in a car is lunacy….”

This is particularly true given that in Skenazy’s examples, the temperatures in the cars of the quickly-returning mothers remained mild (in the one case the outside temperature was 69 degrees) — and at no point was any child even vaguely uncomfortable.  Does it really need to be said that one should not be arrested for keeping your children in pleasant conditions? In other words, it is the temperature of the car and discomfort and peril of the child that should determine arrests for child endangerment.

Moreover, it is important to emphasize that the risk of walking your children through a busy parking lot is significantly greater — perhaps orders of magnitude greater — than leaving your children in the car to run a quick errand. For example according to one study, “In 2003, nearly 38,400 children ages 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for pedestrian-related injuries.”  The article also notes that  “Toddlers (ages 1 to 2) sustain the highest number of pedestrian injuries. More than half of all toddler pedestrian injuries occur when a vehicle is backing up. Children from birth to age 2 are also more likely to suffer pedestrian injuries in parking lots and on sidewalks.” (Emphasis added.)  Another analysis states that “Children ages 2, 13, and 14 accounted for the highest number of pedestrian deaths for the time period studies. Children from birth to age 2 are more likely to suffer non-traffic related injuries including those occurring in driveways, parking lots or sidewalks (Emphasis added).”  While we obviously don’t have statistics on the amount of children left in cars or walked through parking lots, the fact that hyperthermia essentially does not occur for parents who consciously are leaving their children in a car for a brief errand in a store or post office — while injuries in parking lots for pedestrians, and especially toddlers, is non-negligible, it is quite clear which is more dangerous.

Right now, 18 states have laws that are pushing police to arrest parents for quickly running a quick task with their children in the car — and so forcing them to drag their children through the parking lots, a  prospect that is far more life threatening.

Child endangerment is already illegal in all states.  And any parent that leaves their children in a car for hours as the heat soars past one hundred is already necessarily breaking that law.  But states should not over-react and have police arrest parents who are in  reality doing the safe thing.

Shortages always occur and the poor always suffer with government schemes because price signals (and profit) are not linked to supply-and-demand. In the free market, when demand begins to outpace supply, prices and profits rise — and more producers and employees gravitate to the lucrative field.  This is why there has never been a severe shortage of a free market good or service, e.g., televisions, cars, computers, etc.)  With government controlled industries, this pricing mechanism is destroyed.  As an example, Medicaid reimbursements are now so low that profits of primary care physicians are dropping as their work load increases.  And fewer people are entering the field. We have already seen how this turns out in other countries.  This is why in 2009, 750 women in labor in Great Britain were turned away from hospitals and waiting lists are torturous in Canada for those who can’t afford to pay to travel to the U.S.   Now according to an article in Wall St. Cheat Sheet, Obamacare is bringing this problem to the U.S.  “By throwing nine million additional people into the system, without finding a remedy for this problem, the Affordable Care Act will make it even harder for Medicaid patients to find doctors…
“If Medicaid patients and new exchange enrollees cannot actually see doctors, their only recourse will to visit the emergency rooms for care. But with so many ERs filled over capacity, causing the closure of more than 650 in the past two decades, that is not a good solution. There are facts that back up this supposition; Harvard researchers have discovered that emergency room utilization increased in all 11 Massachusetts hospitals after a carbon-copy of Obamacare was implemented in 2006.”


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