Friday, March 29, 2013

No, Steve Kornacki does not 'Keep His Politics to Himself'

Is Steve Kornacki An Objective Political Analyst? has unexpectedly been my most popular post here at LPJ. It's main points are: Steve Kornacki is an impressive wonk of recent political history, and his writing sticks to a more objective approach, though he too slips in his own political opinions. For many readers, this is hard to spot and that's a disservice to them.

Now that Kornacki is moving up (pun intended) the ladder and replacing Chris Hayes on MSNBC's show Up, he is a getting a bit more attention. The Daily Beast features him in this article, which  unfortunately perpetuates the idea that objectivity is possible, and goes so far to claim that Kornacki "keeps his politics to himself":
Kerry Lauerman, Kornacki’s editor at Salon, hired him after watching Kornacki appear on Hardball With Chris Matthews one afternoon...
“Usually people, if they know who voted for what in 1984, aren’t able to do anything with that,” Lauerman says. “They are just another political fanboy or fangirl. He is very able to apply his knowledge, and you know he is able to do that without seeming like he has any kind of agenda. He is coming at it pretty ingenuously and clear-eyed. You never have to wonder who is taking him out to dinner.” 
Which puts him at a different approach than his predecessor. Hayes was very much a creature of the left... Kornacki... generally keeps his politics to himself. “I am hesitant to put any kind of ideological label on it and say that’s what this show is. I would rather say this is a show that seeks out intelligent conversation and is not going to be afraid to let that conversation take place organically.”
And yet, as I showed in my post back in June 2012, this is hardly the case, he does slip in political opinion and - as with everyone else- his worldview does affect what he chooses to write and not to write.

Once again, it's fine for anyone to write about politics but let's stop pretending that objectivity is even possible.

Bottom line: Like everyone else, Kornacki has an agenda.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why the Soviet Union Collapsed

It's good to finally have a face to associate with EPJ, a very important blog for Austrian economics and liberty. Robert Wenzel's excellent speech at the Mises Institute on the Soviet Union's collapse is going to be a classic:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Don't Hide the Cost of Government

Politicians try their best to hide the cost of government, by withholding taxes and placing tax day as far from election day as possible. Let's fix that, says Gary North in this classic article.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Glenn Greenwald is Not a Libertarian (Yet)

On one of his side blogs, Glenn Greenwald writes an interesting post on “frequently told lies” about himself. One lie, he says, is that he is a libertarian, and he certainly is correct, as several public positions he documents are blatantly anti-libertarian.

Yet Greenwald is very much a “civil libertarian”; in fact, he is proud to be a “civil liberties extremist”. This is why libertarians so frequently applaud his work. It’s a bit confusing for us, though, why he supports liberty in some cases and not others. Is “economic liberty” or any kind of liberty less important? Why is my right to work for an employer on terms we agree to, for example, less of a right than free speech? If I want to take a job for $5 an hour, shouldn't that be just as much of a right as free speech?

This is where the non-aggression principle is so instructive. It is the foundation of libertarianism, and very difficult to reject. In short, it states that using force is unjustified except in self-defense. Any other use of force is a violation of someone’s ownership in their body and their other property. Therefore, just as it would be illegitimate for the government to outlaw my speech, it would be just as illegitimate for them to outlaw trade.

For another example, take Social Security, which Greenwald doesn't want to cut at all. Forcing me to participate in a retirement savings program is no more legitimate than, say, forcing me to participate in some religion. Civil liberties and economic liberties are really the same thing: it’s all liberty. As Ron Paul has correctly urged, we had best stop separating the two. It’s both inconsistent and unjust.

It’s my hope that Greenwald winds up becoming a consistent libertarian.  What he wrote further down in his post, is similar to the process all of us go through on the way to becoming libertarians, and thus may be reason for optimism (emphasis mine):

I had to rely back then on standard political and media venues to form my political impressions of the world. When I first began writing about politics, I had a whole slew of conventional political beliefs that came from lazy ingestion of the false and misleading claims of these conventional political and media sources. Having the time to examine political realities first-hand has led me to realize how many of those former beliefs I held were based on myth or worse, and I've radically changed how I think about a whole slew of issues as a result of that re-examination.

…When I still trusted and relied upon the claims of the political and media class - when I was basically apolitical and passive - I tacitly accepted all sorts of views which I've come to see are warped and misleading. I've talked often about this process and am proud of this evolution.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Glenn Beck: Newcomer Libertarian?

I haven’t been keeping up with Glenn Beck, but he has come to my attention again because of a recent video where he talked with Jack Hunter, Jacob Hornburger, and Zak Slayback on his The Blaze show. Apparently, Beck is becoming more of a libertarian these days. That’s welcome news, but he is not there yet.

Before we get to Beck, though, we need to step back and address a comment by Students for Liberty co-founder Alexander McCobin that probably prompted Beck’s video above:
“…if Glenn wants to call himself a libertarian, I am happy to accept him as one…on the condition…that he comes here to our community and proclaim ‘mea culpa’ for his past defenses of social and neo-conservatism…”
Here McCobin perpetuates a myth that libertarianism is in conflict with “social conservatism”. It’s absolutely not. One can hold “socially conservative” views on drugs, Israel, marriage, etc. and still be a libertarian, i.e. not forcing such views on others. (Abortion is the exception: depending on your stance it is an act of aggression). (Borowski video) McCobin is correct, though, that anyone, like Beck, who has taken very public, anti-liberty positions, is going to have to repudiate what he said in order to have any credibility.

Beck responded to McCobin’s comments on his radio show:
“This guy wrote, and said if Glenn Beck wants to join our club — meaning Libertarianism — then he has to come and atone for his past transgressions, and I thought, ‘Is that you grand inquisitor?’ What is this, the Spanish Inquisition? You’re more Fascist than some of the Fascists that I’ve seen. And the same thing with many of the hard core Ron Paul supporters. You are supposed to have a brain of your own, and you’re not supposed to be about an individual. I mean Libertarianism is about a set of ideas: maximum freedom. Not about a person.”
Of course, we accept newcomers, even if they don’t support liberty to the extent we do. But to claim the libertarian label, you have to actually be a libertarian. Beck may be moving in the right direction, but he isn't quite there. A few recent examples demonstrate this:

  • Lincoln: Honoring Lincoln with a poster on your show’s set is honoring a man who rejected the central principle of the Declaration of Independence: the right of secession. It’s honoring a man who did more to destroy the Constitution’s federal government in favor of a national government than any other President. Lincoln’s agenda was anti-liberty: high tariffs and corporate welfare. If you like Lincoln, you’re probably not a libertarian.
  • The Military: People who take a government job to participate in an aggressive, unconstitutional war are not heroes. They are participators in aggression, they are attacking our liberty, whether they know it or not. To call them all heroes is irrational and certainly not libertarian. If you think Chris Kyle was a hero because he was an effective sniper in Iraq for the military, you’re probably not a libertarian.
  • War on Drugs: This is another stumbling block for social conservatives. They correctly recognize certain activities are bad, like drug abuse, but incorrectly assume that it’s acceptable to force this view on others by prohibiting them from doing what they want with their property. That’s not what liberty is. With liberty you are legally free to do whatever you want as long as you don’t violate other’s rights. If you don’t want to end the war on drugs, you’re probably not a libertarian.
If you don’t accept libertarian views on major issues, you’re probably not yet a libertarian. Until you do, it’s best that you don’t describe yourself as such, at least without qualifying it. People who take on a name but act inconsistent with it cause confusion and that requires others to correct their error. To call out those who misuse the name is not authoritarian, but an attempt to preserve the integrity of our language.

Incidentally, this is why we have to spend a lot of time on Rand Paul. The public perception is that he is a libertarian, when he usually is not.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Senator Feinstein Is Offended by a Good Question

Senator Cruz asks Diane Fienstein, the key Senator pushing new gun bans, a good Constitutional question. Unfortunately for Feinstein, it’s a hard question to answer, so she tries not to answer at all. Instead, she acts personally offended, says she has been in Washington for years, says her views should be respected even as she “respects” ours, blah, blah, blah. (If she actually respected our views, she wouldn't be using the force of the state to impose her views on the rest of us).

Everything she said could be said by someone claiming it was constitutional to ban certain books or religions, or to in some situation suspend the fourth amendment or any other part of the Bill of Rights for some reason. Feinstein is about to admit this.

Cruz insists on an answer: if there are exceptions to the second amendment what about the others? Okay, now she answers, "...obvious, no", before trotting out the child pornography card as an example that all rights can be restricted. Dick Durbin then joins in condemning the idea of absolute rights. And since they are not absolute, they are not really rights at all, as the Democratic Senators demonstrate. The government can restrict them however they like.

They are wrong. A good understanding of natural rights really helps clear up issues like this.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Real Problem with the Keystone Pipeline

It’s not because oil is bad (though general environmental concerns are legit and should be handled bythe free market). The real problem with Keystone is that it relies on eminent domain, i.e. aggression, as Chris Mayer explains.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rand Paul's (Mostly) Fake Victory

It is with great sadness that, upon further reflection and research, I report Rand Paul's epic filibuster didn't actually accomplish very much at all.

Let's re-cap the exchanges between Paul and the Administration:

Rand Paul asks on February 20th:
Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial?
Attorney General Eric Holder responds March 4th:
 "The U.S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so.... It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001."
In other words, yes, the President does claim that power.

Unfortunately, Paul's question in the February 20th letter did not exclude imminent, immediate threats, which he and most others agree the President has the Constitutional authority to respond with force. So, Holder was able to answer that question instead of the real question, does the President have the power to kill an American citizen on American soil, who is not actively engaged in combat?

Following the filibuster holder finally responded: "no".

"Hooray!" declared Rand Paul, claiming victory as he first heard the answer during a TV interview. Not only did the filibuster draw much attention to this neglected issue, we actually got an answer, and it was a good one.


Not so fast. It didn't take long for some people to realize the White House response dropped the word "actively" and beyond that left so much wiggle room as to not really be an answer at all. It's all in the key phrase "engaged in combat", which as Willaim Grigg reminds us, can mean whatever the President wants:
"Combat" can consist of expressing support for Muslims mounting armed resistance against U.S. military aggression, which was the supposed crime committed by Anwar al-Awlaki, or sharing the surname and DNA of a known enemy of the state, which was the offense committed by Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdel. Under the rules of engagement used by the Obama Regime in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan, any “military-age” male found within a targeted “kill zone” is likewise designated a “combatant,” albeit usually after the fact. 
Glenn Greenwald's echos the same concerns in a Tweet this morning:
 Until we know how the OLC memos define "engaged in combat", Holder's letter to Paul tells us nothing meaningful
Unfortunately, this didn't stop Rand Paul from claiming victory, even though it was fake.

None of this would be a problem were it not for what happened after 9/11, explains Jacob Hornberger:
The problem occurred on 9/11, when Americans permitted President Bush to get away with treating the 9/11 attacks as an act of war. But they weren’t, any more than the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center constituted an act of war … or Timothy McVeigh’s terrorist attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City … or the Unibomber’s acts of terrorism …  or any other act of terrorism. Again, terrorism is a federal criminal offense, which is why accused terrorists are indicted and prosecuted in federal district court. 
Once Bush was permitted to get away with labeling his “war on terrorism” a real war, like World War II, he decreed that he now possessed the extraordinary powers associated with a military commander-in-chief, which necessarily includes killing enemy soldiers. In the war on terrorism, he said, the terrorists are the enemy soldiers or “enemy combatants.” In war, it’s legal to kill the enemy. 
Bush’s position was fully endorsed by President Obama. It will also undoubtedly be fully endorsed by Hillary Clinton if she is elected president four years from now. 
Equally important, both Bush and Obama have always emphasized that in the war on terrorism, the entire world is the battlefield. That includes the United States. Therefore, it logically follows that whatever powers Bush and Obama claim, as a wartime commander in chief, to kill people overseas extends to the United States. Again, in the war on terrorism, as U.S. officials have never ceased to remind us, the entire world is the battlefield. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the entire world includes the United States. 
Thus, there can be no doubt whatsoever that President Obama claims the authority to assassinate the enemy not only abroad but also right here in the United States. After all, ask yourself: why would he say that he lacks the authority to wage war here in the United States when the United States is part of the worldwide battlefield in the global war on terrorism? 
Eric Holder’s initial statements confirm that position. Saying that the president isn’t currently planning to assassinate Americans isn’t the same thing as saying that the president lacks the legal authority to assassinate Americans. Instead, it’s saying the exact opposite. It’s saying that while the president does, in fact, have the authority to assassinate Americans, he’s simply not choosing to exercise that authority at the present time. However, if there is another major terrorist attack on American soil or some other big crisis, then, as Holder makes clear, all bets are off and the president might well expand his assassinations to American terrorists operating within the United States. 
What about Holder’s supplemental letter read yesterday by White House Press Secretary Carney? A careful reading of it reveals that it’s simply a clever device to obfuscate Obama’s real position. It’s saying that the president lacks the authority to use a drone to assassinate an innocent American—i.e., an American “not engaged in combat on American soil.” 
But neither Bush nor Obama have ever claimed the authority to assassinate innocent Americans. The authority they have always claimed has been to assassinate guilty Americans (and guilty foreigners)—that is, those people who are guilty of being terrorists.
Well, guess who decides whether a person is a terrorist. You got it! The president makes that determination. And once he decides that a person is a terrorist in his global “war on terrorism,” that’s the end of the discussion. The assassination is carried out by his loyal military and intelligence forces, and that’s the end of the matter. Under our post-9/11 system of government, neither the president nor the military nor the CIA is required to explain, justify, or even acknowledge the assassination.
If we are going to strike at the root of this problem, we will have to deal with this issue. War is the health of the state. The "war on terrorism", which is war on a tactic, is necessarily endless and claims the whole earth as battlefield. The extraordinary powers of a state reserved for a time of war have thus become permanent and can be used anywhere, thanks to the "war on terror". What more could a state pursuing its own self-interest ask for?

In this context, Obama's alarming claims of power make sense. The legal case for them is airtight, as neocon Charles Krauthammer explains. The only place Krauthammer is wrong is in mixing up which planet we and him live on. The trouble started with our erroneous response to 9/11. Terrorism is a crime, not a war.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rand Paul’s Filibuster was Brilliant...

...from a political, moral, and constitutional point of view. It may well have been an act of opportunism, but it was also the right action to take, and I believe he is sincere. Obama’s radical claims, or should I say usurpation of power, is extremely dangerous and demands a filibuster and much more.

What has been incredible is how little attention this policy received up till very recently. Wither all the civil liberties concerns of the ‘left’? Crickets, ever since Obama took office, with few exceptions. On the ‘right’, sadly, there is little reason to think that there is much genuine resistance to this usurpation, but since Democrats are in power Republicans will take the opportunity to oppose Obama.

Kudos to Rand for bringing much needed attention to this issue. The White House has no choice but to respond and probably back off. (Update: Sure enough, they did).

There was little political risk in Rand Paul launching what turned into a 13-hour, old-fashioned "talking" filibuster, the longest of it's kind in recent years. The rewards have been significant: not only in all the headlines and Twitter trending, but also in the excitement it is generating among the public and the voters. It will surely boost his career going forward, and hopefully he uses his increasing political capital productively.

Monday, March 4, 2013

What Does the Sequester Hysteria Say About America?

The “Sequester” slightly reduces the rate of government growth, and took affect March 1st. There are no real cuts, but you couldn't tell from all the hysteria from the political class (including the mainstream media). Here are a few observations on the whole situation:

  1. The political class is committed to maintaining and increasing their power, and will make themselves look like fools to avoid any roadblocks to this, no matter how minor or necessary they are. Exhibit A is the President himself, who said he would veto Congressional attempt to dodge thedeal that help prevent additional downgrade to the U.S. credit rating. When time came to make good on his promise, he led the charge to kick the can downthe road again.
  2. There is no substantial, organized opposition to lead the charge for sanity. Only a few individual politicians are committed to actually cutting spending. This is a symptom of the real disease: the people’s ideology. Most Americans don’t care, are ignorant, and show little capacity to think long term. This is the core problem we must address- completely reshaping the average mind via education. We’re not going to trick anyone into supporting liberty. There’s no shortcut. Ron Paul Republicans should not try the slippery slope of compromise to get power, they should do as Rothbard noted, uphold the ultimategoal of liberty and act consistent with it. That’s how Ron Paul made a difference and changed so many minds. We have to build on that with the same strategy.
  3. It’s pretty clear that Americans will behave recklessly, driving up debt and inflation until they reach market imposed ceilings. TheReal Crash is coming and we had better get ready for the fallout. We also need to be ready for educational opportunities it will bring, which means working on our own education in economics and liberty. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Rolling Back the Propaganda

The human race is incredibly fortunate to have the state, an indispensable and usually benevolent institution also known as simply “the government”. Without its central planning, life would be miserable, if existing at all. Children would be working in mines for a dollar a day, consumer products would be exploding, there would be no science or art, and we would all be ignoramuses.

At least, that’s the story the state itself tells us. This is unsurprising- it is simply pursuing its own self-interest by perpetuating propaganda that leads the masses to ignore and be ignorant of other possible solutions to problems the government claims to solve.

Exploding some of these myths is the goal of Rollback, the most recent book by historian Thomas E. Woods. It didn’t come off the presses a minute too soon, either. Americans face a crisis, and with that comes the opportunity for change.

What crisis?
“The federal entitlement programs on which generations of Americans have been taught to rely and to base their expectations for retirement will go bust in our lifetimes. The aging of the population guarantees it. The resources do not and will not exist to make good on these promises.”
A rosy economic outlook, responsible management of the federal debt, and readiness to pay much higher interest on the debt will not avert the looming disaster. Woods meticulously documents the statistics to back up his claims. It was a pretty startling chapter- that’s coming from someone who was already somewhat aware of these problems.

As these problems were created by steady government growth, they will be solved by reversing the trend. “This is no calamity to be deplored. It is an opportunity to be seized,” Woods writes. Rahm Emanuel was right when he observed that a crisis presents the opportunity for change. That change can be good or bad, and Rollback attempts to demonstrate the inevitable cutting back of government is actually a boon for all of us.

To do that, the large middle portion of the book is devoted to addressing a myriad of issues ranging from recent items like health care, stimulus, the housing bubble, to major but oft-overlooked things such as the monetary system, military spending, and the war on drugs. He also wisely spends some time on relatively inexpensive programs and regulations that “form a significant part of the mythological edifice that gives rise to the public’s na├»ve confidence in government”. Woods rolls back the propaganda and makes some of the best cases for less government that I have read.

The final chapter discusses possible solutions but is prefaced with an important warning for those who are tempted to put their faith in today’s Republican party. The 2010 elections- and no doubt several more to come, will not put genuine friends of freedom in office who are prepared to responsibly address the crisis. No, the GOP’s history proves it buys into the Official Story, just like the Democrats.

The solutions Woods proposes are mostly unconventional, which seems appropriate given the severity of the crisis and the failure of traditional solutions. The chapter is concluded with a brief moral case for freedom; it’s not a strictly economic problem we face.

Rollback’s 232 pages are jam packed with fascinating information and over 400 footnotes. Despite the tea party appealing cover*, issues are dealt with in a fair, non-partisan manner. It is a book that makes you think. Both laypersons and sophisticated political junkies should read this timely work. In fact, if I were to add just one book to everyone’s reading list, Rollback would probably be it.

Read the first chapter for free here. Or listen free here.

*That was the publisher’s choice, not the author's.