Speaking during a Labor Day event in Detroit, Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd of hundreds that union employees deserve a “fair share” of corporate profits. The notion goes, if companies earn more, so should their employees. From Fox News:
Biden spoke Monday on the grounds of the former Tiger Stadium ahead of organized labor’s annual parade Monday. He stuck with populist themes, criticizing corporate pay and companies that leave the U. S. for lower taxes.
He says workers don’t want a handout. Biden says, “Just give them a chance.”
Yet, a handout is precisely what Biden’s advocating for. By virtue of the fact that you work for someone, your success should track proportionally with theirs. Never mind the true value of a given contribution. If your boss gets richer, you should too.
Like so many attractive notions, it falls apart upon deeper examination. Realize that wages, salaries, and other forms of employee compensation are essentially prices. Like all prices, employee compensation needs to reflect the actual market value of the service being provided. To charge different prices to different buyers based on their individual income would negate the entire function of price.
You don’t have to be rich to appreciate this point. Imagine you go to the grocery store and pay $25 for a loaf of bread because you make more money than someone else who only has to pay $3. Such a system would collapse in short order. Yet that’s the kind of silliness dispensed by Vice President Joe Biden and lapped up by his allies on the political Left.
If companies earn greater profits in a free market, it’s because they produce greater value. To the extent individual employees contribute to that value, they will be compensated, as the countless examples of jobs paying higher than the minimum wage and earning raises demonstrate. But to simply mandate that people earn more when the company does, which is the implied policy Biden here advocates, would necessarily take from those producing extra value to give to those who aren’t. In other words, it is a handout. Worse yet, it would disincentivize value creation. Why work to build value if you can’t reap the rewards? Likewise, why work to build value if you’ll be rewarded regardless?
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 12:12 minutes long; 11.78 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
A state department in Oregon has denied a crucial permit to coal export company Ambre Energy. The permit would have enabled construction of a new barge dock to meet anticipated demand in Asia.
Environmental activists opposed to the project are doing their happy dance, once again celebrating the obstruction of industrial progress and – by extension – the furtherance of human life. Fox News reports:
Brett Vandenhuevel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, a river watchdog group that fought against the Ambre dock permit, said the project’s impact on air and water quality cannot be minimized, and that is why “the opposition was unprecedented,” with thousands of people attending the rancorous public hearings.
Concerns ranged from dirty coal spilling out of trains and onto the land and in the water, to the impact on the habitat and endangered species like native salmon. They warned of coal dust during transport, but also pollution and climate change, as a result of long-term fossil fuel burning.
“People really took a stand and said they don’t want to be a conduit for dirty coal,” said Vandenhuevel.
Of course, all that “dirty coal” translates to essential energy for the furtherance of human civilization. That might not mean much to a hand-wringing environmentalist in the Pacific Northwest. But it means a hell of a lot to developing nations in other parts of the world who strive to achieve a quality of life comparable to the West.
Therein lies the supreme irony of the environmental movement. While its activists tend to identify with the political Left, and thus pay lip service to wealth inequality and the plight of the poor, they also stand obstinately against development which provides direct opportunity for individuals the world over to advance.
But hey, salmon. Gotta save the salmon.
There’s also a disturbing air of pre-crime to Vandenhuevel’s comments which speak to the illegitimacy of so many governmental regulations. Coal might spill out of trains, so we should punish Ambre ahead of time by denying them the right to use their own property. If Ambre’s practices resulted in a true tort against an actual party, the matter could be resolved in court, where such matters belong.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 12:07 minutes long; 11.69 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
This November will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet, many living among us today would eagerly help rebuild it. Take Fox News’ Howard Kurtz as an example. His Thursday rant against Burger King’s choice to move its corporate headquarters to Canada and benefit from lower taxes brims with Soviet-style angst over escaping slaves. He writes:
70 U.S. companies have engaged in similar maneuvers, known by the stupefyingly boring name of “inversions,” and the media have collectively yawned, relegating the debate to the inside business pages…
Why have journalists and commentators failed to bang the drum over this outrage?
Outrage? What’s so outrageous about people voting with their feet?
The difference between corporate tax inversions and immigration from East to West Berlin is a matter of degree. In either case, those moving have sought escape to freer pastures.
Like a good Soviet, Kurtz longs to erect a legal wall boxing people in. Because nothing conveys the prosperous effect of a nation’s policies like barring folks from leaving.
Despite his portrayal of an ambivalent media and impotent government, Kurtz should recognize that his tyrannical desire to herd people into oppressive jurisdictions retains plenty of support. It wasn’t that long ago that the National Labor Relations Board harassed Boeing for moving part of its operations to a right-to-work state. More recently, Walgreens succumbed to similar pressure applied by the Obama administration and chose not to proceed with a proposed inversion.
This should be remembered come November, when politicians and media figures feign reverent remembrance of the Berlin Wall’s collapse. Unless they fully support the freedom of association, including the freedom to vote with your feet against restrictive regulations or debilitating taxes, they have no business pretending they’re better than Soviets.
Recently, Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly clashed over the notion of “white privilege,” debating the root cause of statistical disparities between white and black Americans. The Blaze summarizes:
Among the facts Kelly shared is that black unemployment in Ferguson is three times what it is for whites and that a black child in the U.S. is four times more likely to live in a poor neighborhood than a white child.
While O’Reilly didn’t dismiss these figures, he said that “families, culture and personal responsibility” are the real issues at hand.
But Kelly didn’t agree that O’Reilly’s assessment addressed the full picture.
“It’s not just families or culture,” she said. ”Look at that stat about the black children four times as likely to live in poor neighborhoods as white children, and in the St. Louis area there is documented white flight … the whites take off, these become black neighborhoods. The schools they get forgotten and the black population feels forgotten, Bill.”
Whether Kelly intended it or not, she echoed a disturbing premise which carries demeaning paternalistic overtones. Consider, why should an exodus of white people leave blacks destitute? Are we not speaking of adults? Are we blacks not endowed with the same human capacity to conceive of values and pursue happiness? To speak of blacks as “forgotten” is to speak of us like children lost at the mall, wholly incapable of assuming responsibility for ourselves. In this way, “white privilege” seems to mean productive capacity, and those wielding the phrase seem to argue that blacks have none.
The other disturbing aspect of the “white privilege” conversation is an implicit attack upon the freedom of association. Whites moving out of a neighborhood commit an “injustice,” it’s said. How? What has been taken from me when you move from the house next door? What right of mine does a neighbor’s change of residence violate? Again, the argument seems to be that white people – by virtue of an implied superior natural endowment – hold a paternal responsibility to care for black people.
Indeed, the notion of “white privilege,” as propagated in the modern academy and throughout the media, stands as a vile remnant of past institutional racism. It implies black inferiority, while donning the guise of paternal concern.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 15:28 minutes long; 14.91 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
During a wide-ranging interview on the topic of Ferguson on The Midday Show on KFAB radio in Omaha, host Clint Bellows offered the following remarkable insight:
You know, Walter, back in the fifties, one of my favorite actors – Gregory Peck – played Atticus Finch in the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s great novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson, an African-American man in the deep south who was accused of assaulting a lower-middle class white woman… of course, he was found guilty and he was sent to prison. Along the way, the officers that were holding him claimed that he tried to escape and they shot and killed him…
This [situation in Ferguson] is To Kill a Mockingbird in reverse, isn’t it? We’ve got a white police officer who has been found guilty in the court of public opinion, including the former attorney general and governor of the state who says the Brown family needs justice. What about this police officer’s situation? We don’t know what happened there, do we?
Indeed, the rush to prejudgment regarding the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson demonstrates precisely the same form of racially-fueled bias critiqued by Lee in her novel. Unchecked, such prejudice portends injustice. It should not matter whether the victim of such injustice is white or black. What should matter is the recognition and protection of each individual’s rights, regardless of their background.
As articulated in the interview, which you can listen to at the link below, the blatant politicization of a criminal justice incident should chill the blood of anyone concerned with the essential guarantees of due process and equality under the law. The adoption of a mob mentality by many in the mainstream media, and – worse yet – highly placed government officials like Attorney General Eric Holder, flies in the face of each institution’s purpose. Government and the press each exist to cut through bias, administrating blind justice and reporting objective fact respectively. When they fail to do so, they become no different then Tom Robinson’s racist persecutors.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 32:16 minutes long; 31.05 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
The formation and execution of foreign policy can be complicated. Yet, the principles which inform those tasks are not. Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson reports on the awkward relationship emerging between the United States and the Assad regime in Syria as both find a common enemy in the Islamic State (ISIS):
“The Obama administration can’t partner with Assad overtly at this time, but the logic and trajectory of White House policy in Syria leads in that direction,” Tony Badran, a research fellow specializing in Syria and Hezbollah at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News. “White House policy in Syria is predicated on preserving so-called regime institutions.”
In public, the administration is not changing its position on Assad. And State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf disputed that the U.S. and Syrian governments share a common goal in defeating ISIS.
“I would strongly disagree with the notion that we are on the same page here,” Harf said on Monday, while later admitting to Fox News, “We may be looking at some of the same targets.”
We need not wring our hands with concern over whether action taken against ISIS in defense of American lives places us in alignment with Assad on certain objectives. Moral clarity can be found by recalling the proper role of our armed forces in defending American citizens. Anxiety over “helping” Assad by undercutting his opposition in ISIS seems based primarily on concern over the death of innocents in Syria. But if ISIS presents a threat to American citizens, then failure to neutralize the aggressive Islamic totalitarian horde potentially sacrifices Americans for the sake of Syrians. That’s not a trade our government may properly make.
The other way to potentially view this, if we conclude that Assad also presents a threat to America, is that fighting the enemy of an enemy does not necessarily make friends. Certainly, when we recall the inclusion of the Soviet Union in the Allied Forces rallied to defeat the Axis, we would not in retrospect claim that common purpose made us lasting friends.
Imagine, if you will, a young white unarmed man shot to death by police under ambiguous circumstances like those which have sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Imagine that, in response to that white man’s death, white militia men, white Tea Partiers, and white professing Christians rallied to the town where it occurred. Imagine they began burning buildings, looting businesses, and defying measures by local law enforcement to maintain order. Then imagine that a charismatic political celebrity, say – Ted Nugent, showed up with an army of conservative activists leading a voter registration drive and said:
Five thousand new voters will transform the city from top to bottom…. Nobody can go to the White House until they stop by our house.… Elected officials don’t have to care about white citizens as long as they don’t fear us at the ballot box.
How would the media and the government respond? Would Attorney General Eric Holder be traveling to the town to personally oversee a civil rights investigation unprecedented in scope? Would reporters wring their hands, pleading for understanding?
It’s fair to guess that the rioters, along with any peaceful protestors, would be categorically labeled racists. Their political allies would be tarred and feathered with political ads and vitriolic media commentary. If the federal government responded at all, it would probably look more like Waco or Ruby Ridge than the restraint which has been shown in Ferguson.
In other words, we are witnessing evidence of a racial double-standard in America. But black people and others of color are not its victims. White people are, along with any of color (like myself) who dare to dissent from the mainstream consensus that historical injustice justifies modern rights violations.
The intervention of Holder in Ferguson stands particularly alarming, because he has demonstrated time and again a blanket disregard for justice wherever race is concerned. Let us not forget, this was the same attorney general who refused to prosecute members of the New Black Panther Party for blatant voter intimidation (standing right outside a polling place with clubs in hand) among other things, and in 2011 implied that white people cannot be the victims of racial injustice.
You want to have a conversation about race? Let’s have it, and let’s cut right to the chase. We are witnessing a regime of institutional racism in this country directed not against blacks, but whites. When the institutions of government and media stand eager to apply a double-standard to one group of people over another based upon skin color, what else do you call it?
Folks like Eric Holder, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other agitators racing to forge political capital from the unrest in Ferguson have no interest whatsoever in equality under the law. Indeed, they have made it clear on several occasions that they advocate for and actively pursue a public policy which treats individuals differently based upon their racial identity and ethnic background. In a word, they seek injustice.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 13:23 minutes long; 12.92 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
In the above video from Reason.tv, protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, rationalize the looting and property destruction which has taken place in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police. Asked “Do you see a problem with the destruction of private property…,” one protestor stated unequivocally:
No. I believe that the only reason we have this attention is because of the looting and rioting.
Another expounds with a unique perspective:
I’m a business owner. So I understand both sides. Of course I wouldn’t want my – any of my businesses burned down, broken into. But without these businesses broken into, none of y’all would be out here, because that’s the only reason people tweeted. People Facebooked. People Instagramed. If it was just a peaceful – everybody get together – you know, “Justice for Mike Brown” and everybody leave, we wouldn’t have the national attention we have now, and it would be swept under the rug.
It’s an attitude toward violence which has been more overtly articulated by agitators on the political left. Consider this Salon article covering Occupy protests in Oakland back in 2011. Protest organizer Michael Spencer rationalized rioting in much the same way the above protesters have:
“Property damage is not violence,” said Spencer with a frown. “The reality was, no cops got hurt. It looks like more than it was. They were just burning shit in the street.”
Such is the quality of thought which manifests in riots like those seen in Ferguson. Whether Michael Brown’s killing was justified or not, the question will not be settled by stealing things, breaking stuff, or “burning shit in the street.” Indeed, any legitimate criticism of police conduct losses its impact when coupled with open disregard of justice as such.
So, sure, you might get more attention from looting than you otherwise would. But it does no favors for the cause.
Lest we forget, President George W. Bush endured a fair amount of criticism for going on vacation while <fill in the bank crisis> raged somewhere in the world. It’s a common refrain for critics of any given president to lament any breaks taken.
Most recently, some folks are up-in-arms over President Obama attending a birthday party while the situation in Missouri deteriorates. From The Blaze:
The president was slammed by his critics for attending the lavish party as unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, seemingly neared a boiling point as police and protesters clashed for the fourth night in a row following the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Are these critics suggesting a riot in Missouri should cancel someone’s birthday party? How should the president intervene? What role does the chief executive of the United States have in a law enforcement matter in Missouri?
In this example, we happen to be considering the president. But there’s a broader principle in play which applies to all of us. What claim does someone else’s tragedy have upon your happiness? Do we rob something from a mother in grief over the loss of her son when we happily take ours to the zoo? What’s the appropriate level of general misery which ought to be enforced, lest someone feel alienated by the happiness of others?
It’s the spiritual manifestation of the same moral argument we tackle in the political discourse. Someone else needs something – healthcare, a job, housing – and we’re expected to provide it. Just as such claims are made on an individual’s property, so are they made on an individual’s mood. You should care about what I care about. You should be sad, because I’m sad. You should refrain from laughing while I cry.
It’s entirely legitimate to criticize someone for indulging at the expense of vital responsibilities. To the extent Obama has neglected his job, you can build a case against his vacations. But this idea that he or any person should not enjoy life while others languish in misery proves as immoral as any have-not claim upon the lives of haves.
As you might expect, it didn’t take long for political opportunists and race-baiters to rally to Ferguson, Missouri, looking to leverage unrest over a teen killed by police into a platform for advocating their policy agenda. Writing at USA Today, Jesse Jackson would have been well-served to stop after calling upon protestors to refrain from further violence. Alas, he just couldn’t help himself:
Since President Lyndon Johnson, there has been no significant urban, suburban, small town or rural policy to rebuild America. Thus we should not be surprised that urban and rural communities, and all points in between, have significantly deteriorated during the past 46 years of neglect. Republicans are the party of “no” and Democrats are the party of “don’t know” because it hasn’t fought for bold ideas, policies or plans to turn us in a new direction. Policies of community development are being replaced with policies of community containment. The absence of a domestic Marshall Plan is being replaced with martial law.
Such rhetoric suggests that Jackson views America as a ravaged battlefield, laid waste by a destructive force on par with a major natural catastrophe or act of war. By what means has this devastation been wrought? “46 years of neglect” by government.
What a low view of humanity. In Jackson’s mind, without pervasive government activism, human beings are lost to destitution and despair. He goes on to lament “inadequate investments being made in our infrastructure… outdated public transportation… denial of capital investment for entrepreneurs,” and so forth. Apparently, government – an institution defined by its capacity to lawfully wield force against individual lives – is the only power capable of providing for people’s needs.
Conspicuously missing from Jackson’s consideration is the one place in the nation which best models his vision for “community development,” Detroit, Michigan. Once home to a peak population of 1.8 million, and now languishing at around 700,000, Detroit crumbles as a manifestation of precisely the kind of “investment” and “development” Jackson speaks of.
Such is the price of Jackson’s prescribed “equality,” a condition where individuals are actually treated differently under the law depending upon how productive they are. Such is also the price of Jackson’s prescribed “justice,” a condition where promises of provision are made by government on the backs of the most productive and successful, because nothing proves more “just” than seizing people’s property. In the final analysis, it appears Jackson supports looting after all.
That was the question posed over the weekend by Jack Tomczak, one-half of “Up and At ‘Em with Jack and Ben,” the local morning conservative talk radio program in the Twin Cities. Posting to Facebook, Tomczak cited a report from Catholic Online detailing horrific atrocities perpetrated by ISIS against Christian men, women, and children. “What’s the libertarian answer to this?” he asked.
The thread which followed reflects the tension present in the persistent foreign policy debate within the Republican Party. The one thing which most respondents seem to agree on is that facts are hard to come by, and the fluid situation in Iraq makes it difficult for laypeople to provide an informed policy prescription.
We can articulate a couple of principles, however. The first deals with our response to the atrocities themselves. As a Christian and a father, my sense of justice is rightly inflamed by pictures and accounts of children murdered by Islamic totalitarian thugs in Iraq. It would take a cold heart indeed to feel anything less than contempt and condemnation for the animals ravaging Iraqi citizens. That said, the federal government of the United States does not exist to satisfy my sense of international justice. It exists to, among other things, protect the citizens of the United States.
Opposing U.S. military intervention in Iraq does not mean one fails to care about the atrocities being committed there. It merely recognizes the appropriate limit of the federal government’s authority. Have a private mercenary army you plan to unleash on ISIS? I’ll gladly donate. But there exists no compelling state interest in spilling American blood and spending American treasure to protect non-citizens in a country halfway around the world.
But what if American citizens are at risk? Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain appeared on Sunday news programs to herald the threat they say ISIS presents to the United States. From The Blaze:
“If you read what they’re saying, we are the enemy, they want to destroy us,” [McCain] said [on CNN’s “State of the Union.”]. “They are getting stronger all the time. Their goal, as they have stated time after time, is the destruction of the United States of America.”
At about the same time on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Lindsey Graham offered a similar prediction.
“They’re coming here,” he said. “This is not just about Baghdad, not just about Syria. It’s about our homeland. If we get attacked because [Obama] has no strategy to protect us, then he will have committed a blunder for the ages.”
Libertarianism and non-interventionism should not translate to sticking our heads in the sand regarding objective threats to the lives and liberty of American citizens. The expressed intention to destroy the United States, to fly a black flag over the White House, coupled with a demonstrable capacity to act upon that intention, stands as a de facto declaration of war. And when war is declared upon you, you have to take it seriously.
If we re-engage in Iraq, it should be with the specific goal of utterly destroying a clearly identified enemy, in this case ISIS. We shouldn’t look to win hearts and minds. We shouldn’t look to nation-build. We shouldn’t use restraint and yield to any possibility of civilian causalities. We should act decisively to end ISIS, to wipe it off the face of the Earth.
How’s that for a libertarian answer? It may not be what you’re used to hearing from professing libertarians or non-interventionists. But it’s nonetheless consistent with the principle of individual rights. Aggressors prove morally responsible for the death and destruction which results from necessary retaliatory force. Whether it’s Iraqis defending themselves, or the United States defending its citizens, the objective should be the elimination of ISIS by any means necessary.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 15:58 minutes long; 15.4 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
The always provocative Ann Coulter raised a lot of eyebrows this week with her Wednesday column calling a Christian missionary who contracted ebola in Liberia “idiotic.” Headlines making the rounds on social media do a fair job of highlighting her pointed rhetoric without addressing her thesis. Coulter wrote:
Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan’s Purse and SIM USA just to fly him and his nurse home in separate Gulfstream jets, specially equipped with medical tents, and to care for them at one of America’s premier hospitals…
She goes on to ask, “Can’t anyone serve Christ in America anymore?”
We can debate the wisdom of Coulter’s rhetorical packaging (though it’s fair to bet that, if she did not communicate as pointedly as she does, we would not be talking about her at all). However, the substance at the root of what Coulter wrote proves worth Christians’ prayerful consideration.
Are missions to foreign lands undertaken at the expense of needs closer to home? From a monetary perspective, in Dr. Brantly’s case, the objective answer is a resounding yes. Two million dollars could go a long way toward providing for the spread of the Gospel. But more importantly, there’s a spiritual danger in what Coulter calls “Christian narcissism,” confusing earthly mileage with spiritual accomplishment.
It may be a bit much to presume Brantly traveled to Liberia to stroke his ego, or to somehow put God in his debt. Coulter does not know his heart one way or the other, and neither do we. Only God does. Nevertheless, there remains an object lesson for the rest of us to consider which could give us a moment of prayerful pause before eagerly traveling halfway around the world before first ministering to our nearest neighbors. Sometimes — I think it fair to say most of the time — God has you where He wants you.
As prices incrementally go up for products and services, it may not always be clear why. Indeed, some increases may go wholly unnoticed until presented in a comparison over several years.
One establishment in the picturesque Minnesota town of Stillwater decided to make a recent increase in their prices wholly transparent. As reported by City Pages, the Oasis Cafe has added a “minimum wage fee” to its customers’ checks to reflect and offset the increased cost of a newly implemented minimum wage law. Explaining the move on Facebook, the business writes:
WIth regards to why we’re charging a $.35 fee to cover the recent $.75 increase in in minimum wage…we estimate the increase in labor cost will will cost our company more than $10,000 per year…which has to be offset by an increase in revenue in order to operate profitably. Rather than increase the prices of our menu items, we chose to charge a flat fee. If the state of Minnesota would pass tip credit, like 43 other states have done, none of this would be necessary. For what it’s worth, we pay our people very well. Our dishwashers start at $10/hour, our cooks start at $12/hour and our servers average more than $20 when you consider what they earn in tips…
The explanation was offered in response to a critic on Facebook who claimed the move placed the business’s employees in a bad light. “Don’t you wonder how that makes your employees feel, making them look like the bad guys to their customers. Shame on you,” the critic wrote. How a customer would come to the conclusion that the minimum wage fee reflected in any way upon employees was not made clear.
Criticizing a business for effectively publicizing the effects of government (read: force) upon their operation is blaming the victim. Sympathy morally belongs with the business owner, whose capacity to act upon their own judgment and trade value for value honestly has been handicapped by government edict. If more businesses and organizations engaged in this kind of transactional activism, it might stimulate much needed debate on the morality of capitalism and the immorality of price controls.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 13:18 minutes long; 12.83 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
At some point over the past century, a profound shift occurred in the West’s popular mood regarding the morality of violence. As Objective Standard editor Craig Biddle reminds us in an outstanding piece tackling “Hamas and The Left’s Pretense About the Deaths of Innocents in Gaza,” the United States ended its conflict with Japan in World War II by dropping two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over 200,000 people died as a result. Surely, the vast majority of those killed were innocent individuals who did not conscientiously participate in the bombing of Pearl Harbor or any other aggression against the Allies. But our nation killed them anyway.
Would we do the same today? Do we have the stomach? Perhaps the better question is: do we retain the moral sense to place blame for such deaths where it belongs?
It’s true, dropping those bombs and killing 200,000 people saved millions more. Yet, it’s not a utilitarian weighing of this many lives versus that many lives which justifies the bombings. The United States was correct to drop the bombs as an act of retaliatory force, neutralizing a threat against its citizens. As Biddle articulates in his piece, which you should read in its entirely, proper moral blame for the 200,000 dead lay with the empire of Japan. Biddle concludes:
The principle is: He who initiates physical force is morally responsible for the destructive consequences of the retaliatory force he thereby necessitates. So says the law of causality.
This principle is as clear in a warzone in the Middle East as it is on the streets of Miami. If a thug grabs a woman and tries to shove her into a van, and the woman pulls a gun from her purse and shoots at the thug, thereby killing an innocent bystander behind him, who is morally responsible for the bystander’s death? Every thinking adult knows the answer.
Of course, the kind and extent of retaliatory force warranted in a given situation depends on the full context and can be a complex matter. But the matter of who is morally responsible for the harm caused by retaliatory force necessitated by an aggressor is simple: The aggressor is.
As a culture, we in the West seem to have forgotten that. Perhaps later generations never learned it to begin with. Instead, we uphold notions of “restraint” and “proportional response” as if civilian causalities among an enemy state should haunt us.
The death of innocents is always a tragedy. But the nation that kills is not necessarily the nation at fault. Deaths should not be tallied for balance, as if fairness necessitated a Jew die for every Palestinian killed, or as if the United States should have allowed 200,000 of its citizens to be bombed as an offset to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fault for death and destruction lies squarely with the aggressor. As Dennis Prager states concisely in the video on the next page, the aggressor in the Middle East is clearly Hamas.
The House voted 420-5 to pass what is being described as an overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs in the wake of the scandal surrounding inadequate patient care. Fox News offers some of the details:
The House vote came just one day after the Senate confirmed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald to lead the sprawling agency, which provides health care to nearly 9 million enrolled veterans and disability compensation to nearly 4 million veterans.
In order to be successful, McDonald “will need to take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability,” [Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.] said.
The measure includes $10 billion in emergency spending to help veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country.
Lawmakers anticipate support for the measure in the Senate, even among fiscally conservative Tea Party members. That’s to be expected. Spending on veterans is one of the few areas of public policy where virtually everyone agrees that more is better. Politically, it’s a no-brainer which enables members to wave the flag back home.
That said, more money may not be the best solution to the VA problem, not in and of itself. At root, the VA stands plagued by the same handicap Obamacare will place upon all of us, government bureaucracy. If you really want to incentivize “swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement” and “replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability,” then give it over to the market. The profit motive works better than any other to produce sustained quality and dependable efficiency.
To an extent, it sounds like this plan includes that with the “$10 billion in emergency spending to help veterans… obtain outside care.” But that appears to be plan B until the VA can grow its bureaucracy by leasing new clinics and hiring more staff.
Our veterans deserve the benefits they were promised, and they deserve quality care. The best way to provide that would be to transition away from government-run healthcare to grants utilized in a free market. In the era of Obamacare, that’s a pipe dream. But it remains a superior solution to lopping off a couple administrative heads and tossing dollars at the same corrupt system.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 11:46 minutes long; 11.35 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Poised to fulfill President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to ensure electricity rates “necessarily skyrocket,” the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule which would limit power planets to 1,000 pounds of carbon emissions per megawatt-hour. Fox News reports:
As a part of its controversial proposed rule to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants, the EPA held simultaneous public comment sessions in Washington, Atlanta and Denver Tuesday. The comments, designed to help shape the formulation of the final rule, may have complicated that task, given the often diametrically opposed opinions expressed.
At the Washington event, one of the speakers, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., told the panel, “The planet is running a fever and there are no emergency rooms.”
His admonition to address the urgent climate crisis contrasted with satellite data that shows no global surface warming for 17 years and 10 months. That, in turn, is at odds with NASA’s findings that 2013 tied as the seventh warmest year since 1880.
Lost amid efforts to make sense of seemingly contradictory information is an essential moral consideration. Should your government have the power to keep you from heating your home? Should your government have the power to keep you from feeding your children? We should ask, because this proposed EPA rule would effectively kill domestic energy production from coal, which would increase energy prices. And when energy prices go up, all prices go up. It turns out modern living is made possible by energy.
In a way, offering public comment to the EPA as they consider arbitrarily increasing the cost of living and lowering our quality of life lends legitimacy to the claim they have made over our lives. Perhaps the only proper public comment would be, “How dare you.”
It’s easy from a position like United States senator to value the planet’s imagined “fever” over cheap abundant energy. But when you’re living a hairsbreadth from devastation, barely feeding your family or struggling to heat your home, the value of cheap abundant energy trumps pseudo-science any day of the week. The same people so eager to flaunt the poor when it proves politically convenient ignore the same when the topic turns to climate change.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 16:05 minutes long; 15.51 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Recently, while making the libertarian case for support of Israel, I noted that Islamic totalitarianism manifest in the entity of Hamas presents a common enemy to the United States and Israel. Neither nation can suffer a world where the mandates of Islamic totalitarianism are put into practice.
That case was rejected by many professing libertarian associates, who in their response defended Islam and Hamas while demonizing Israel. Their response reminded me that, while professing activists from the various wings of the libertarian movement share many common enemies and many common causes, an important divide remains between objective libertarians (advocates of liberty and its political requirement, proper government) and anarchists who have appropriated the libertarian title.
The distinction is explored in a recent episode of The Peikoff Podcasts by Ayn Rand Institute executive director Yaron Brook. Answering why so many professing libertarians are anti-Israel, Brook explained:
I think that the libertarians who tend to be anti-Israel tend to be in the [Murray Rothbard wing] of the libertarian movement. They tend to be anarchists. They tend to have a deep rooted hatred of government. And it’s interesting [because] they tend to hate free governments more than they hate totalitarian governments. They tend to focus their hatred much more on the American government [and] on the Israeli government than they do on Hamas.
If you’re libertarian, that is if you claim to care about individual liberty, Hamas should be one of the top most hated regimes in the world. You should be celebrating that they are being destroyed and that the Palestinian people might have a chance to be freed from such a totalitarian evil regime like Hamas is.
And yet, libertarians don’t seem to care about the Hamas government, or actually support it, and they focus all their ire [and] all their hatred [and] all their focus on the Israeli government, a government that is in relative terms a rights respecting government, at least as rights respecting as any Western government. Essentially there’s free speech in Israel. There’s freedom of contract. There’s private property, not as much private property as those of us who believe in liberty would like, but much much better than 90% of the countries in the world.
… So I think that this is one of the ugliest manifestations of this fringe element – or not so fringe element – within the libertarian movement, their attitude towards Israel, their attitude towards the United States, their attitude towards foreign policy in general…
Upon further reflection, it occurs to me that advocacy of anarchy requires one to minimize the legitimacy of foreign threats while demonizing any action which government takes to protect citizens. After all, if government can be seen acting properly in defense of liberty, that stands as evidence against anarchism. In this way, anarchists masquerading as libertarians have boxed themselves into a philosophical corner which requires them to become apologists for evil.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 16:05 minutes long; 15.51 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Nancy Pelosi has build a reputation for saying the darndest things. She added to that brand late last week, as Breitbart reports:
[The House Minority Leader] doubled down on her comments that Americans should view the flood of children crossing the border while claiming refugee status just like baby Jesus.
“You could even speak about, if it’s your tradition, Moses,” she said. “What would we do if Moses had not been accepted by the pharaoh’s family? We wouldn’t have the Ten Commandments for starters.”
Pelosi expounded, claiming that “we have [biblical] examples of humanitarian assistance that should guide us in all this.” It leaves you to wonder whether Pelosi has actually read a bible, or if she’s just patching together random word pictures snatched from vaguely recalled references.
If you’re having trouble recalling how the stories of the infants Jesus and Moses apply to immigration policy, it’s because they don’t. If anything, both tales highlight the malevolence of a lawless state.
If Pelosi really thinks the bible calls us to take in tens of thousands of children in need, she won’t mind them settling down in her neighborhood. Surely, the radical voters who continue electing her would be more than willing to put their money where their elected mouthpiece is.
Revised Tea Party Gospel: “Suffer the little children come unto me. Unless they’re undocumented kids from Central America.”
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) July 22, 2014
Much easier to be a Christian when the little children aren’t in your back yard, isn’t it?
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) July 22, 2014
From the world of social media, controversy trended earlier this week around comments (seen above) by horror writer Stephen King. The author of best-selling novels like The Shining and Pet Sematary challenged the convictions of Christians and Tea Partiers when it comes to helping children in need. The Christian Post reports:
An aggregation of King’s tweets by Twitchy, however, revealed some pointed rebuttals casting him as a hypocrite, including a few from conservative radio host Dana Loesch.
“Didn’t see you amongst the Christians ministering to the hungry in McAllen last weekend, @StephenKing. Full calendar?” Loesch noted on Twitter.
“Hey @StephenKing, look at this MEDICAL TRUCK provided privately BY A CHRISTIAN,” she added in another tweet.
Journalist Lachlan Markay also found King’s tweet particularly odd.
“Very odd tweet, @StephenKing, given the lengths to which many prominent Christians have gone of late to help refugee kids at the border,” he tweeted.
The nature of King’s hypocrisy deserves note. Those Christians, conservatives, and Tea Partiers who have rallied charity to meet the needs of illegal immigrant children held in Texas have done so in pursuit of their own values. Their personal beliefs and convictions motivate their actions, and they act with their own resources. By contrast, King assigns others the task of caring and providing. He stands eager to see Christians and Tea Partiers sacrificed for what he regards as a greater good.
It’s the difference between egoistic charity and altruistic sacrifice. Unfortunately, our language largely confuses these concepts. Caring for others is regarded as altruism, when it’s actually an egoistic chosen value. And human sacrifice is justified by appeals to caring, as if sacrificing someone could ever be a caring act.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 38:23 minutes long; 36.91 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Politicians and pundits apparently have more interest in asserting American strength on the world stage than do the American people. From Fox News:
It’s no secret that after a decade of bloodshed and sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan, most Americans are weary of war. But the numbers in a new Politico poll bring home how sizable majorities are increasingly wary of further foreign entanglements.
Take Ukraine, which became a flash point when Russia invaded Crimea and has dominated the news since the downing of a Malaysian Airlines plane, almost definitely by pro-Russian separatists. When the pollsters asked whether the U.S should do more to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine, only 17 percent of likely voters said yes. Another 34 percent said America should be less involved, while 31 percent backed the Obama administration’s current approach. (The poll was taken before the jet was shot down.)
What about Syria, which shattered President Obama’s “red line” by using chemical weapons and has been suppressing a rebellion for years. Some 42 percent of likely voters want less U.S. involvement, while 15 percent want more and 26 percent back our limited level of involvement.
And then there are the two wars that have roiled American politics since 9/11. An overwhelming 77 percent support Obama’s plan to pull all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, with 23 percent in opposition.
And in Iraq, where tremendous gains by ISIS sparked a fierce debate over whether Obama should have left some troops in the country, 44 percent want less involvement and 19 percent favor more involvement, with 23 percent supporting the current level of engagement.
These are staggering figures that reveal a chasm between most politicians and a majority of voters. Many Americans are understandably focused on the problems in their daily lives and not terribly worried about what happens in Donetsk or Aleppo.
Have we become a nation of wimps? Or, has the Washington set been operating under a false dichotomy between restraint and strength?
An opportunity seems to be presented here for a new kind of foreign policy posture, one focused on quick and decisive victory against objective threats to American lives, but otherwise reluctant to intervene in wholly foreign affairs. Will Rand Paul fill that void? Many Republicans won’t trust him to recognize objective threats. Yet, his seems to be the only voice deviating from the bipartisan Washington choir. Who else might thread the needle between isolationism and military adventurism by articulating a vigorous defense that nonetheless minds our own business?
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 10:01 minutes long; 9.68 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
If venerable film and theater actor Sir Ian McKellen has proven anything over the course of his remarkable career, he has proven that it is never too late to catch your big break. McKellen worked steadily throughout his life, achieving renown (and an Oscar) for his role as an aging Nazi war criminal in 1998’s Apt Pupil. But it wasn’t until two years later, when he reunited with director Bryan Singer to play Magneto in the first X-Men film and became Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings franchise, that McKellen became an American superstar at the age of 61.
Plenty of actors have “made it” well into their middle age. Despite playing roles in several Hollywood films, including a significant supporting bit in Jurassic Park, Samuel L. Jackson didn’t become a star until his role in Pulp Fiction at the age of 46. Another Quentin Tarantino film catapulted Christoph Waltz to fame at the age of 53.
Such success, like most all success, emerges from a commitment to develop a craft and persist through setbacks while relentlessly pursuing an individually-defined happiness. No one handed it to McKellen, Jackson, or Waltz. They earned it.
Nevertheless, McKellen recently shared his belief with Radio Times that struggling actors should be lifted up through wage controls. From The Independent:
A recent report found just one actor in 50 earned more than £20,000 a year.
“Most actors are not rich – they are very poor indeed. What keeps them going is that they just love the job,” Sir Ian told Radio Times.
He said: “I know actors who have had to turn down good roles because they just don’t pay enough. It’s hard. The one thing you can ask, I think, is that actors get paid a living wage. I would like it if all the repertory theatres that currently exist could do that. It would make a huge difference.”
The reason one actor in 50 earns more than £20,000 a year is because only one actor in 50 produces that much value. Forcing wage mandates on the industry will not change the amount of value produced. It will only increase the cost of giving struggling actors a chance, which means they will get fewer chances.
It’s precisely the same dynamic created by any minimum wage. Opportunities for those with low or developing skill dry up as they are priced out of the market. If McKellen truly cares about the struggling actors rising up in his wake, he should reconsider his position on wage controls.
As the presidential prospects of Senator Rand Paul grow more viable, so does the intensity of the foreign policy debate within the Republican Party. At the center of that debate is the U.S. relationship with Israel. What obligation do we hold to the Jewish state?
PJM associate editor Bryan Preston responds to a report from the Washington Free Beacon regarding a list of books scrubbed from Senator Paul’s website after the Weekly Standard called out some of the books as “anti-Israel.” Preston concludes:
I’d like to like Rand Paul, for his small government, libertarian principles. I share those, and the fact is, we will go bankrupt as a country if we do not get spending under control. But Paul’s foreign policy instincts have too much of the far left, Dennis Kucinich, blame-America-and-Israel-first detritus to make him a serious commander in chief. This reading list is a symptom of that. It suggests that Paul sees Israel as the prime problem in the Middle East, and Jews the prime problem in the world.
Whether Paul holds such views or not, a broader question emerges from the association of non-interventionist foreign policy with antisemitism. Does one indicate the other? Must we “support Israel” in a particular way to prove that we do not hate Jews?
Lost in the loudest rhetoric dominating the Republican foreign policy debate is an application of non-interventionism which nonetheless acknowledges Islamic totalitarianism. As Ayn Rand Institute executive director Yaron Brook explains in the clip above, the U.S. and Israel share a common enemy, an ideology which expressly seeks to deprive individuals of their rights. Non-intervention does not mean sticking our head in the sand and ignoring real enemies. It means limiting our response to actions which defend us rather than police the world.
Certainly, influences within the Paul family orbit err on the side of pacifism, and those forces deserve rebuke. Even so, it would be a mistake to dismiss the principle underlying non-interventionism. We should “support Israel” to the extent it defends our citizens by defanging a common enemy, not for Israel’s sake, but for ours. What that looks like in practice remains open to debate.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 16:14 minutes long; 15.64 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
On his radio program Thursday, Glenn Beck made a great point regarding the expanding immigration crisis on the southern border:
Send the illegals to the sanctuary cities. They’re the ones who say they can figure it out… And I understand that means Dallas, Texas [near where I live]. But it means Dallas, Texas. And Dallas, Texas will have to deal with the problems in Dallas, Texas.
Beck likewise called for illegals to be shipped to the neighborhood of Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who earlier in the week compared deporting illegal immigrants to sending Jewish refuges back to Nazi Germany. “He’s not going to want [2000 illegals in his neighborhood],” Beck speculated.
It’s a simple but effective piece of rhetoric which challenges advocates of altruism to sacrifice themselves instead of others. If a moral obligation exists to provide for foreigners in need, to not only welcome them into the community but sustain them indefinitely, shouldn’t those who believe in such obligation stand first in line to fulfill it?
It’s a point which demonstrates that immigration as such really isn’t the issue. New neighbors who do not trespass, who deal honestly by trading value for value, present no threat to anyone. But when new neighbors necessitate new costs, when their mere existence demands we provide for their needs, immigration becomes invasion.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 16:23 minutes long; 15.79 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
The state of California has persisted under drought for several years. Now, regulators have taken drastic action to combat perceived water waste. From The Los Angeles Times:
Cities throughout California will have to impose mandatory restrictions on outdoor watering under an emergency state rule approved Tuesday.
Saying that it was time to increase conservation in the midst of one of the worst droughts in decades, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted drought regulations that give local agencies the authority to fine those who waste water up to $500 a day.
Many Southern California cities, including Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Long Beach, already have mandatory restrictions in place.
But most communities across the state are still relying on voluntary conservation, and Californians in general have fallen far short of meeting Gov. Jerry Brown’s January call for a 20% cut in water use.
In fact, statewide urban water usage has increased by 1% over the past three years. Cities have made efforts at “voluntary conservation,” which probably amounts to telling people that there’s a drought. But that hasn’t proven terribly effective.
Madelyn Glickfeld, assistant outreach director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, told the board that despite the Southland’s conservation strides, residents “don’t get this drought.”
She cited lush lawns and freeway sprinklers spraying next to the electronic Caltrans signs urging water savings.
There’s a better way to handle the situation. Instead of siccing the water police on neighbors for washing their car, California could institute market-based reforms which would effectively ration water without any form of policing at all.
Residents of East Los Angeles can expect to pay between $3 and $4 per 100 cubic meters of water used. If those rates were allowed to reflect actual supply and demand, they would clearly be higher. And if the rates were higher, residents would begin to “get this drought” fairly quickly. Those lush lawns grow because their owners regard them as a higher value than the money paid for irrigation. Guaranteed, there’s a price point at which that priority would shift.
But such a market response would be considered “gouging,” something which pretty much everyone regards as wrong. Yet “gouging” would immediately solve California’s problem by incentivizing consumers to ration their water use. Higher prices would also incentivize entrepreneurs to develop new and better ways to deliver water to consumers. Instead of responding abruptly to arbitrary political mandates, individuals would respond fluidly to the price signals offered in the market. The result would be a nimble response propelled by the rational self-interest of California residents. The crisis, such as it is, would resolve sooner and cause less damage over its duration.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 16:19 minutes long; 15.74 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Over five years of activism in and around the Republican Party, I have frequently heard (and occasionally made) calls to appeal to young voters. Such exhortations typically include a claim to know what young voters want. They want government out of their personal lives. They want a more tolerant and inclusive society. And they want government to balance its checkbook. But the full picture proves a bit more convoluted, as The Atlantic reports:
Millennial politics is simple, really. Young people support big government, unless it costs any more money. They’re for smaller government, unless budget cuts scratch a program they’ve heard of. They’d like Washington to fix everything, just so long as it doesn’t run anything.
That’s all from a new Reason Foundation poll surveying 2,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29. Millennials’ political views are, at best, in a stage of constant metamorphosis and, at worst, “totally incoherent,” as Dylan Matthews puts it.
Author Derek Thompson ably demonstrates how the results could be construed by partisans to signal millennial support for either political party’s agenda. That in spite of a similar Pew poll indicating that millennials don’t care much for either party. In short, the Reason Foundation poll offers little to nothing of any practical substance regarding a millennial platform for public policy.
This really shouldn’t surprise us. Kids want everything, right now and for free, until they learn the value of a dollar through practical experience. The Reason Foundation poll found that millennials who meet with financial success tend to rethink that whole wealth redistribution thing.
Maybe the takeaway for politicos chomping at the bit to win the youth vote is to stop trying to figure them out. Instead, lead with principle and demonstrate how it serves their interests.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 10:52 minutes long; 10.49 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Politics is show business with consequences. The theatricality which presents around political contests often exaggerates differences in policy. The recent back and forth between Texas governor Rick Perry and U.S. senator Rand Paul, both of whom appear likely to seek their party’s nomination for president in 2016, provides a good example.
Delivering the opening salvo in Friday’s Washington Post, Perry accuses Paul of being an “isolationist” who prescribes “next to nothing” in response to the developing threat posed by the Islamic State marching in Syria and Iraq. Yet, when the rhetorical smoke clears, Perry’s prescription differs little from what Paul has called for. The Kentucky senator highlights as much in his response published Monday at Politico:
Perry says there are no good options. I’ve said the same thing. President Obama has said the same thing. So what are Perry’s solutions and why does he think they are so bold and different from anyone else’s?
He writes in the Washington Post, “the president can and must do more with our military and intelligence communities to help cripple the Islamic State. Meaningful assistance can include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sharing and airstrikes.”
If the governor continues to insist that these proposals mean I’m somehow “ignoring ISIS,” I’ll make it my personal policy to ignore Rick Perry’s opinions.
Paul gives as good as he gets, attempting to portray himself as stronger, wiser, and more Reaganesque. But this too is more showmanship than substance.
In truth, the differences between Perry and Paul manifest more in rhetorical spin than actual policy. Perry has an interest in portraying Paul as an “isolationist” who will do nothing in the face of an imminent threat to American lives, even though Paul has said nothing of the sort. Likewise, Paul has an interest in portraying Perry as a rabid warmonger chomping at the bit to toss American lives into a foreign meat grinder, even though Perry has not prescribed troop deployment in response to the current crisis.
There are real differences between these two, and real differences along the spectrum of foreign policy positions in the Republican Party. However, we should remain mindful of the interest likely candidates have in exaggerating those differences to build momentum for their campaigns. In truth, we need not choose between reckless war and naïve isolation. Our real choices are much less neat.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 11:19 minutes long; 10.87 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Edward Snowden, with his tales of collected cellphone metadata, was small potatoes. A new tattler tells the Guardian that audio of our conversations is monitored and stored by the NSA. Antony Loewenstein reports:
William Binney is one of the highest-level whistleblowers to ever emerge from the NSA. He was a leading code-breaker against the Soviet Union during the Cold War but resigned soon after September 11, disgusted by Washington’s move towards mass surveillance.
On 5 July he spoke at a conference in London organised by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and revealed the extent of the surveillance programs unleashed by the Bush and Obama administrations.
“At least 80% of fibre-optic cables globally go via the US”, Binney said. “This is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”
Outrageous though this revelation surely is, we should not be surprised. The combination of ever-improving high technology, within a political context where individual rights are routinely sacrificed for a perceived “greater good,” makes this kind of surveillance inevitable. Once contained only in dystopian fantasy, global population monitoring has emerged as a plausible reality.
We’re not going to be able to put the technological genie back in the bottle, and mere “oversight” won’t be able to keep up with emerging surveillance capabilities. Instead, if we hope to avoid Binney’s predicted “total population control,” we need a philosophical revolution which culminates in stripping government of the funding and authority to maintain such blanket surveillance.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 17:25 minutes long; 16.79 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Motivated by last year’s Supreme Court ruling striking down components of the Voting Rights Act which required some states to obtain federal clearance before making changes to election law, civil rights groups now pursue changes to federal law which would effectively nationalize state election processes. From the Atlanta Daily World, reported earlier this month:
In January, a bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers accepted the Supreme Court’s challenge to update the VRA, by introducing the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014.
While the proposed VRAA covers states with five violations in 15 years and jurisdictions that show continuous low minority turnout and enhances Department of Justice’s power to monitor elections, it only requires Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi to “pre-clear” changes to voting laws. Voters’ rights advocates have said that North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida should also be covered. The bill also goes soft on restrictive voter ID laws, installing a special rule that separates voter ID laws from other discriminatory practices.
Yes, that’s a non-editorial news report referring to voter ID laws as “discriminatory.” You get the gist that many of these so-called civil rights activists wish to endow the federal government with sweeping power over state election systems.
Before that happens, there remains a window of opportunity for advocates of state sovereignty to pursue a bold course toward reigning in federal overreach. While the notion of nullification has maintained popularity among constitutional activist groups, it lacks teeth in an era where the federal Supreme Court holds final say over conflicts between federal and state interpretation. Instead, states might consider reforms which would reinvigorate state legislative power over their federal delegations, deterring bad law before it happens.
One proposal in development would empower a state’s legislature to deny incumbent U.S. senators or congresspeople placement on future ballots in the event their conduct was found to violate federal or state constitutions. Imagine, your senator votes in a manner defiant of your state’s interests, then your legislature effectively recalls them by keeping their name off future ballots. It could go a long way toward restoring the proper relationship between the states and their federal compact, which was undone in large part by the direct election of senators enabled by the 17th Amendment.
Too bold? Would it hold up if challenged in court? Is this a good way to hold federal legislators accountable to the several states? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 15:17 minutes long; 14.73 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Glenn Beck has responded to the broadening crisis on the United States southern border in a manner which his fans may find counterintuitive. The Blaze reports:
Glenn Beck on Tuesday announced that he will be bringing tractor-trailers full of food, water, teddy bears and soccer balls to McAllen, Texas on July 19 as a way to help care for some of the roughly 60,000 underage refugees who have crossed into America illegally in 2014.
“Through no fault of their own, they are caught in political crossfire,” Beck said of the children. “And while we continue to put pressure on Washington and change its course of lawlessness, we must also help. It is not either, or. It is both. We have to be active in the political game, and we must open our hearts.”
Beck’s announcement came as President Barrack Obama called upon Congress to appropriate nearly $4 billion to fund federal response to the crisis. Forbes reports:
The money will be used to set up new detention facilities, conduct more aerial surveillance and hire immigration judges and border patrol agents to respond to over 52,000 unaccompanied children and 39,000 adults with children who have made the dangerous journey across the border.
The inhumane conditions in which these migrant children are living motivates both political and charitable action. Texas governor Rick Perry has called the situation “a humanitarian crisis.” From across the political spectrum, commentators and power brokers seem to agree that aid must be provided.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said it well: “Plainly, the situation for many of these unaccompanied children is extremely dire, and the United States has both a security and a moral obligation to help solve the crisis at hand.”
Into this mix, consider some uncomfortable but relevant questions. If there was no one here in this place we call America, no government to appropriate funds, no greedy capitalists to rally charity, and no heartstrings on which to pull, would these immigrants still come here? If America was nothing but wilderness, a vast untamed expense as our forbears found it, would the rest of the world still send their children?
Put yet another way, if refugees escaped to the middle of nowhere instead of a populated sovereign state, would it still be a humanitarian crisis? At what point does another person’s need become your responsibility? When they cross your state’s border? When they enter your town? Once they’re televised?
By what moral calculation did your birth indebt you to them? Why didn’t their birth indebt them to you? Do you exist to provide for other’s need? If so, who exists to provide for yours?
These questions emerge from reflection upon the difference between modern immigration to the United States and historical immigration predating the welfare state. So often, in the immigration debate, we hear some variation upon this theme: America is a nation of immigrants. Indeed, it is. However, the immigrants who came here for most of the nation’s history did so without expectation of provision. The earliest settlers arrived to vast untamed wilderness with no guarantee of survival whatsoever. They dug life out of the ground and built a nation from scratch. The waves which followed sought the freedom to pursue their happiness, not subsidies or refugee camps.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 15:24 minutes long; 14.85 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
“It’s the new Jim Crow being enforced in a colorblind way.” So said Michelle Horovitz, speaking to a local Fox affiliate in Minneapolis. She aimed her reference at a dress code enforced at the downtown location of Bar Louie on weekend evenings. After 9pm Thursday through Saturday, patrons will not be admitted wearing flat-billed hats, sleeveless undershirts, “excessively baggy clothing,” long plain white t-shirts, athletic apparel, or sports jerseys. Critics like Imani Vincent call Bar Louie’s restrictions racist and discriminatory against blacks.
If you do not want African Americans to frequent your establishment, then maybe you should just say that and not just break it down to the dress code.
The whole thing proves ridiculous on multiple fronts. Horovitz, who has led the public cry against Bar Louie for their dress code, may be outing her own racist assumptions. After all, what about a dress code makes it discriminatory against a particular race? Are black people born in sports jerseys? Are they physically incapable of wearing anything else?
Horovitz calls the code “the new Jim Crow being enforced in a colorblind way.” But that’s utter nonsense. A defining aspect of Jim Crow was its explicit racial discrimination. Another defining aspect was its status as a government mandate. Calling a private dress code “the new Jim Crow” indicates profound historical illiteracy.
I’m black. My wardrobe meets Bar Louie’s dress code. Presumably, if I show up at their door after 9pm on a weekend, they will welcome my business. Indeed, I may welcome their dress code. I may be looking for a particular experience on my night out, an ambiance free of pedestrian characters.
Downtown Minneapolis has developed a nasty reputation in recent years for violence in and around nightclubs and bars. One way for venues to prevent such violence is to enforce codes of dress and conduct. If certain styles have come to be associated with incidents of violence, then taking my business to a venue which bans those styles makes sense.
This is hardly a new phenomenon. I was enforcing dress codes as a nightclub bouncer fifteen years ago. Now it’s a national story?
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 14:49 minutes long; 14.28 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Author Ed Klein, whose new book Blood Feud chronicles the antagonistic relationship between President Barrack Obama and former first family Bill and Hillary Clinton, claims that Obama has handpicked a successor for the 2016 presidential race. The Washington Times reports:
Writing in the New York Post, Mr. Klein said: “Publicly, Obama has remained noncommittal on the 2016 race, but privately he worries that Clinton would undo and undermine many of his policies. There’s also a personal animosity, especially with Bill Clinton, that dates from their tough race six years ago.
“Obama has authorized his chief political adviser, Valerie Jarrett, to conduct a full-court press to convince Warren to throw her hat into the ring,” Mr. Klein wrote. “In the past several weeks, Jarrett has held a series of secret meetings with Warren. During these meetings, Jarrett has explained to Warren that Obama is worried that if Hillary succeeds him in the White House, she will undo many of his policies.”
Warren may prove more dangerous to the remains of our American republic than either Obama or Clinton. That’s because, unlike those bigger names, Warren knows what she believes and precisely why she believes it. As seen in the clip above, Warren stands as a confident and articulate minister of the progressive gospel. She sees property seizure and redistribution as a moral imperative, a sacred obligation consented to by the act of acquiring wealth. Take another look at her remarks.
I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
These comments, offered extemporaneously in the intimacy of a supporter’s home, indicate a true believer who claims title over the wealth earned by others.
The Blaze brings our attention to recent commentary by CNN columnist Sally Kohn on the topic of illegal immigration. She claims that describing immigrants that way, as “illegal,” is like using the n-word to describe black people. Kohn writes:
During the civil rights era, Alabama Gov. George Wallace was asked by a supporter why he was fixated on the politics of race. Wallace replied, ‘You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about n*ggers, and they stomped the floor.’
Today, opponents of immigration reform attack undocumented immigrants as ‘illegal immigrants.’ Even worse, like anti-immigration extremists, some prominent elected officials use the term ‘illegals.’ Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, said, ‘I urge all Mainers to tell your city councilors and selectmen to stop handing out your money to illegals.’
Not the same thing? Of course it is.
No, it isn’t. Kohn’s equivalence is beyond despicable.
The n-word serves no descriptive purpose. It does not speak to a factual truth about its object. The n-word is plainly and only derogatory.
The word “illegal” is an adjective with objective meaning that describes a factual reality. We call illegal immigrants “illegal” because they are here illegally. It’s pretty simple.
Of course, Kohn knows that. An eighth grader knows that. Surely, someone writing for CNN understands that words have meaning and that communicating concepts accurately proves essential to any policy debate. We may therefore conclude with confidence that Kohn’s campaign to remove “illegal” from our policy vernacular is a naked attempt to deny the illegality of certain immigration by erasing any linguistic reference to it.
The answer is no, Sally. We’re not changing our language to suit your agenda. We’re not going to stop categorizing people objectively as illegal immigrants. We’re not going to dilute the gravity of truly derogatory terms by conflating them with one that is not.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic. 10:27 minutes long; 10.09 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
On today’s Fightin Words podcast: Celebrating Independence Day in the Obama era feels like celebrating your wedding anniversary after being widowed. Worth noting? Sure. But hard to be happy about.
On today’s Fightin Words podcast: In the wake of this week’s SCOTUS rulings, State Representative Ryan Winkler tussles with Republicans on Twitter, calling activists who resist the forced unionization of childcare businesses “foolish.” Why his opinion proves not just distasteful, but dangerous.
@nwlaroche Unions raise wages. Dues are a small fraction of the financial benefit unions provide. Childcare activists are foolish.
— Ryan Winkler (@RepRyanWinkler) June 30, 2014
George Takei is an idiot, as PJM editor Bryan Preston points out in response to a meme making its way around social media. The meme features an excerpt of the Star Trek actor’s rant against Monday’s Supreme Court ruling involving Hobby Lobby. Takei expresses his idiocy in the way so many on the political left do, by conflating denial of service with harm. The Raw Story relates Takei’s broader statement:
In a post on the website for his new play, Allegiance, the openly gay Takei called Monday’s decision “a stunning setback for women’s reproductive rights.”
“The ruling elevates the rights of a FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION over those of its women employees and opens the door to all manner of claims that a company can refuse services based on its owner’s religion,” Takei wrote.
Of course, in truth, rights do not conflict. A claim to a right is either legitimate, or not. Conflicting claims to a right are not decided by elevating one above another, but by determining which is legitimate.
In truth, women’s rights stand wholly unaffected by Monday’s ruling. Precisely zero women are now unable to obtain abortifacients. They just might have to pay for it themselves. That’s because business owners, like all individuals, properly ought to control their own property.
Takei goes on to imagine any number of scenarios meant to scare us away from support of the Hobby Lobby decision:
He referred to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s blistering 35-page dissent to the decision, saying, “Think about the ramifications: As Justice Ginsberg’s stinging dissent pointed out, companies run by Scientologists could refuse to cover antidepressants, and those run by Jews or Hindus could refuse to cover medications derived from pigs (such as many anesthetics, intravenous fluids, or medications coated in gelatin).”
“(O)ne wonders,” he said, “whether the case would have come out differently if a Muslim-run chain business attempted to impose Sharia law on its employees.”
Here again, Takei and those who agree with him miss the point. Whether a particular business practice makes sense to the rest of us proves irrelevant. It’s not our business. The final arbiter of what terms an individual offers in the market should be that individual and no one else. That’s how trade works. I offer. You accept, pass, or counter-offer. Takei presents the absurd notion that refusal to offer what an employee would prefer constitutes harm. If I refuse to sell you something, or to employ you, or to agree to terms you might prefer, nothing has been taken from you.
Takei imagines a double-standard would emerge if the plaintiffs in this case were Muslim. He evokes Sharia law, which is fairly disingenuous since much of Sharia exceeds the scope of what private actors could do. Executing people isn’t a function of the market. Yet, to the extent a Muslim business owner could run their business according to their beliefs without actually harming their employees, it should be tolerated. It’s nobody else’s business. And that’s the whole point.