On the next page, you’ll find the most cogent analysis of what fueled the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and why we now find ourselves facing a new iteration of the same enemy. Elan Journo, fellow and director of policy research at the Ayn Rand Institute, talks with interviewer Steve Simpson about the confused foreign policy which has led to the longest war in American history.
Journo begins by accurately identifying the enemy, an essential prerequisite to engaging and defeating them. He tells Simpson:
ISIS originated as one of the insurgent groups in Iraq. And they, like a lot of the insurgent groups – the ones that survived were the ones that were better at killing Americans and better at doing savagery. They went into Syria and they became stronger. They are basically now marching to the beat of the Islamist goal, which is to create a regime based on Allah’s laws on Earth, which is what the Taliban did, which is what the Iranians see themselves as doing. So, in that sense, [ISIS is] not unique. They’re basically part of the same enemy.
Indeed, in failing to accurately identify and destroy the enemy which attacked us on 9/11, we merely “scattered them,” as Journo puts it. That’s why we find ourselves facing ISIS today.
The question becomes: why have we failed? How has the most powerful military force on Earth been unable to defeat the relatively ragtag practitioners of Islamic totalitarianism? Journo attributes the failure to our self-crippling morality:
The conventional morality that people take for granted is that you should be selfless.
Now, that sounds crazy in the context of war, because obviously – most people’s healthy reaction is, if [enemies] come after you, you have to defend yourself. [Most people] have self-respect enough to believe in that. But when push comes to shove, [most people] are conflicted, because a lot of people accept the ideas of altruism, of self-sacrifice as a moral idea. Now, put that [idea of altruism] in the context of trying to defend yourself. In fact, that is the doctrine that colors the [conventional] views of how to conduct war…
So take Iraq. The goal there was not to eliminate whatever threat Saddam Hussein posed… It was to rebuild Iraq so that the Iraqis would be lifted out of poverty and would get elections and so-called freedom. That was to serve the Iraqis. That did not serve American interests. Our interests are served by eliminating those who want to kill us.
… People don’t realize that the rules under which the [American] soldiers operate are so restrictive that sometimes they cannot defend themselves, let along eliminate the threat. And so, we put our soldiers in harm’s way. We tie their hands. And then we’re surprised that there’s an insurgency that grows fiercer and more bold, and that Iraq is a mess. Well, you have to look at the ideas that shape the policy.
Since World War II, the West has pursued a policy of restraint in the face of aggression, fueled by various altruistic notions. One of those notions is that we need to free populations under oppression and teach them the virtues of democracy.
That, in essence, was the Bush doctrine. It proceeds from the presumption that, given the opportunity to vote in free and fair elections, people will elect a state dedicated to liberty and justice. Journo swats that presumption down with ease:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a small-scale version of the West versus the Islamist movement… Under the Bush doctrine of bring democracy all over the place, the Palestinian territories were subject to that. The Bush administration pushed for Hamas to be allowed to run in elections. And Hamas in fact won by a significant margin, enough for it to be unequivocal. And it was a free and fair election… So, in effect, the Bush doctrine here is illustrated in its failure, in ushering Islamists [our enemies] into power.
Simpson responds, “So much for the wonders of democracy.” Indeed, democracy provides only that a voting majority gets their way. It does not ensure that the way they pick will be just.
Check out the whole video, plus my podcast commentary, on the next page.
“Saratoga Springs is not Ferguson.” That from Randall K. Edwards, lawyer to the family of Darrien Hunt, a 22-year old black man killed by white police officers last week in the town south of Salt Lake City. Hunt’s mother told media on Monday that her son was killed “because he was black,” a claim which fans embers of protest surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The two cases bear stark contrasts, despite their thematic similarity. As Edwards points out, the population of Saratoga Springs differs from Ferguson in its racial composition. That may contribute to the relative lack of protest surrounding Hunt’s death. Another contrast, the Hunt family’s claim holds more weight in light of developing evidence. The New York Times reports:
According to [Edwards], the family paid for an autopsy that found that Mr. Hunt had suffered six bullet wounds — two to a leg, and one in a hand, an elbow, a shoulder and mid-chest. All of the bullets entered Mr. Hunt’s body from the back, Mr. Edwards said. “It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile that with the reports that he was lunging at them,” he added.
Official autopsy findings from the Utah state medical examiner will not be available for several weeks. If it comports with these independent findings, the Utah County Attorney will have some explaining to do. The office’s current position is that Hunt wielded at 2.5 foot steel bladed samurai sword and lunged at the officers who shot him. But as Edwards points out, “…it seems unlikely that you brandish a sword, you jump toward the officers, lunging toward them and end up shot in the back.”
The Hunt family claims the sword Darrien carried was a plastic toy. That’s a pretty dramatic deviation from the police claim. And even if Hunt carried a real sword, eyewitness accounts and a photograph taken by a bystander (shown above) indicate a relaxed interview. What led to the shooting, we just don’t know.
Fortunately, despite the family’s statements, no violent protest has broken out in Saratoga Springs to rival that seen in Ferguson. The community, while vocal and understandably impatient, seems content to let the system work.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 10:53 minutes long; 10.51 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
As you may have read, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had this to say when Bill Maher asked about the prospect of Republicans retaking the Senate in November:
It would be very important for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate. Civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if Republicans win the Senate.
Building the ever expanding case against Pelosi’s sanity, this comment also raises some relevant questions regarding the effect of public policy upon civilization. First, we must understand what civilization is, and what distinguishes it from the wild. Then we must ask what conditions are required for civilization to exist.
The word “civilization” holds a variety of definitions when used in different contexts. It could mean little more than a community of people living together in one place, or could imply a high level of sophisticated culture.
Certainly, civilization stands apart from the wild in offering some level of protection. Living in the wild means enduring the constant threat of attack from predatory animals or hostile human beings. At its most basic level, civilization provides some barrier, if even just a wall or a herd, to protect against those threats.
Since the Enlightenment, we should infuse our definition of civilization with the recognition and protection of individual rights. After all, it’s possible to live behind the walls of a city or under the “protection” of a king who feeds off your life and labor. The wild proves preferable to oppression in most contexts. By that standard, a country like the United States represents civilization, while a nation engaged in oppression, negligence, or corruption proves uncivilized.
So if we’re going to play the game of which major political party most threatens civilization, it seems clear that Pelosi and her Democrat cohort deserve the most scrutiny. Just consider what the Senate majority is focused on at this very moment. They’re pursuing student loan refinancing, a euphemism for redistribution of wealth, placing a great burden upon taxpayers. They’re pursuing campaign finance reform, undermining the freedoms of speech and association. Meanwhile, they’re ignoring the threat posed by ISIS, refusing to take up legislation to revoke passports from known ISIS collaborators. In other words, rather than protecting citizens from rights violations, they’re engaging in them.
Taking the floor of the Senate to debate a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz laid out an ironic case. The amendment, which would effectively overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, has been championed by Democrat Senator Al Franken. The junior senator from Minnesota, who faces his first attempt at re-election this year, built his name working as a comic performer on Saturday Night Live. Yet, if Franken’s proposed constitutional amendment enabling arbitrary limitations upon corporate speech were to be ratified, SNL’s political satire – a staple of the program for decades – could potentially become illegal.
Cruz goes on to compare the proposed speech limitations to the banning of books, stating that “advocates of government power, statists, have long favored silencing the citizenry.” It shouldn’t surprise us then, Cruz argues, that “the party of government power over every aspect of our lives would take [that idea] to the final conclusion of giving government the power to silence political speech and to [effectively] ban books.”
Cruz strikes the right tone with his incisive remarks. Indeed, the intended effect of Franken’s proposed amendment is the restriction of both speech and association, sacred freedoms protected by the First Amendment. “Money isn’t speech,” the argument goes, a strawman which imagines that someone somewhere thinks cash is literally a statement. Yet, the effect of restricting campaign spending is unquestionably restricting speech.
In his advocacy for the amendment, Senator Franken likes to wield anti-corporate rhetoric, as if corporations are alien invaders from another planet rather than the collective agency of several individuals exercising their rights as human beings. Like the “money isn’t speech” strawman, we constantly here some variation upon “I’ll believe a corporation is a person when Texas executes one.” Yet, not one person anywhere has ever claimed that a corporation is a literal natural person. Instead, the claim of corporate personhood has always been that, as a product of voluntary contractual agreement between individuals with rights, corporations ought to be regarded as persons under the law. But hey, when you’re out to “ban books” as Cruz puts it, you’re probably not going to let little facts like that get in the way of an effective piece of fraudulent rhetoric.
Check out the video on the next page.
Local government may be too small to address its citizen’s problems. That’s the case made by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Tuesday’s All In. Hayes opened his commentary outlining perceived flaws with local government:
You hear it over and over again from politicians, particularly on the Right. “Big government is bad. Small, local government is good…”
But there’s no smaller government more closer to its citizens than local municipal government. In Ferguson, we saw that the reality of “small government” is often very different from the reality of it. We saw a local government that was not accountable to its residents and was simply not equipped to deal with the problems inside its municipal borders.
Part of that has to do with accountability. In last year’s municipal elections in Ferguson, just over 12% of eligible voters cast ballots, and just 6% of African-American residents voted. Ferguson is not unique in that respect. Turn out in local elections is famously low, and accountability is often hard to come by – part of the reason why Jonathan Chait wrote in New York Magazine, “The myth of localism is rooted deep in our political psyche. Left and Right alike use ‘small’ and ‘local’ as terms of approbation, ‘big’ and ‘bureaucratic’ as terms of abuse. None of us is equipped to see that the government that actually oppresses us is that which is closest to us.”
The discussion which followed with guest contributor Brian Murphy expounded on these points, arguing that local government proves inadequate to serve citizens. The heavily implied position which Hayes and Murphy advocate is that these perceived local inadequacies argue for more power to higher levels of government.
Of course, there’s quite a few unspoken premises upon which that case is built. Before you can judge government’s adequacy, you must first grasp its purpose. The debate over the “size” of government often misses that point. The real issue is government’s proper role, not its size. Indeed, the role of government should dictate its size in any given context.
Do you want a small police force, or an effective one? Do you want a small military, or a strong one? Do you want smaller, fewer court rooms, or as many as necessary to handle your district’s case load?
If you believe government exists to protect individual rights and administer equal justice under the law, then you want a police force that protects you from criminals, a military that protects you from foreign aggressors, and a court system for enforcing contracts and resolving disputes. You want those institutions “big” enough to work, not “small” for the sake of smallness. If you’re Chris Hayes, on the other hand, your intrusive vision for government can’t be so easily satiated.
It’s odd to cite low voter turnout as evidence of poor accountability in local government. It’s not as though people aren’t allowed to vote, and thus incapable of holding their local officials accountable. Rather, eligible voters choose not to participate.
Perhaps a key reason for low interest in local elections is the relative impotence of local government. In my suburban city outside the Twin Cites, our school district receives the lowest allocation of per pupil funding of any district in the state. Yet, neither our city council nor our school board have any control over that whatsoever. If you want to increase interest in local elections, return true autonomy to local governments.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 13:44 minutes long; 13.26 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Update (1:15pm PST) – Lawyer and political activist Harry Niska points out that the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, along with their fellow religious organizations signed to the friend-of-the-court brief referenced below, have petitioned the Court to remand the issue of marriage to the states, not to impose their own definition of marriage nationally.
In his book Power Divided Is Power Checked: The Argument for States’ Rights, former talk radio host and political commentator Jason Lewis lays out a compelling case for restoring the Founders’ intended federalism. He notes that what began as a “layer cake,” with clearly defined jurisdictions and powers, has been slowly muddled into a “marble cake,” where local, state, and federal levels intertwine incestuously.
Much has been made in recent years of the polarization of American politics. It seems as though partisans and ideologues across the political spectrum have become less tolerant and more vitriolic. Lewis points out the likely reason for this. As the government of the United States becomes less federal and more national, the stakes of political contests escalate. As the stakes escalate, so does the tension as all stakeholders have more to gain (and to lose) with each successive election, legislative session, or court case.
The solution, according to Lewis, is decentralizing authority and returning powers to the states. That way, if you lose your issue in a given state and feel particularly sore about it, you can move to another state. Additionally, states can compete with each other for the most attractive political and economic environment.
One major obstacle to pursuing this solution is the tendency on both ends of the political spectrum to seek one-size-fits-all national dictates of any given policy. Fox News brings us a timely example:
The Mormon church and four other religious organizations are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and settle once and for all the question of whether states can outlaw gay marriage.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a statement Friday, said it joined a friend-of-the-court brief asking the high court to hear Utah’s marriage case.
“The time has come to end the divisive national debate as to whether the Constitution mandates same-sex marriage,” the brief states.
Multiple organizations and governmental entities on both sides of the debate have filed similar briefs asking the court to take up the issue.
Whatever your position on an issue like gay marriage, you should be far more concerned with the fact that nine individuals retain the power to dictate the legal definition of a social institution for over 300 million. That obscene power, embodied to a slightly more defuse degree in the Congress and a slightly more unilateral degree in the executive, attracts those who would wield it against their enemies. Like the One Ring, no one ought to bear it for long, and it ultimately should be destroyed.
Instead of asking the Supreme Court to “settle gay marriage” as if they properly may, groups on both sides of the issue ought to be calling for the division and separation of powers so that Americans may then choose under which laws to live, by voting with their feet.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 11:47 minutes long; 11.38 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
It’s fair to bet that the contemporaries of Leonardo da Vinci had little sense of how enduring his life and work would become. Da Vinci’s friends, neighbors, colleagues, and critics may have recognized him as important in some regard. But how could they know the extent to which his name would resonate through the centuries? Surely there were many in his time thought to be more noteworthy. We tend to be nearsighted when it comes to our recognition of profound achievement.
In light of that, I believe that we today live too close to Ayn Rand to fully appreciate what she accomplished. Her ideas were so radical, so deviant from the widely accepted norm, that we cannot easily digest them without reassessing many of the premises we typically take for granted.
My first meaningful exposure to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, known as Objectivism, occurred in 2010 when I attend a lecture by Objective Standard editor Craig Biddle at the University of Minnesota. The talk was provocatively entitled “Capitalism: The Only Moral Social System.” It was meant primarily for students, but I attended out of piqued curiosity. As a professing conservative, I had always felt that my views were morally defensible despite mainstream assertions to the contrary, but lacked a firm grasp upon how to defend them.
Biddle’s presentation was brutal in its deconstruction of popular morality, and laid out an alternative based upon objective consideration of reality. Among the radical assertions was a case that altruism is wrong and selfishness is good. I stood flabbergasted, as you may now. Coupled with a rebuke of religion, these ideas were so far outside the scope of my accepted worldview that I rejected them outright. I even took to my blog at the time to refute Biddle’s claims.
In the years since, after taking the time to study and understand the philosophy which Biddle introduced me to, I have learned that my initial response was impotent. A prerequisite of disagreement is understanding, and I did not fully understand the philosophy of Ayn Rand after a forty minute lecture from Biddle.
PJTV contributors Andrew Klavan and Bill Whittle proceed under the same handicap when they criticize Rand in their most recent episode of Klavan and Whittle, embedded above. It’s tough to blame them for a clumsy handling of her ideas, because I’ve been there. Indeed, it’s fair to expect that the vast majority of people stand largely unequipped to handle Rand’s philosophy. It is so radically different from anything else before or since, and has yet to be widely taught and understood.
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.)