Ron Paul is right a lot Tuesday, Apr 13 2010 

Some readers might not believe it, but there was a period of time when I considered myself a “Ron Paul libertarian.” Paul is who inspired me to explore libertarianism and, indeed, politics in general. His run for presidency last election got me to not only explore political concepts differently but to also be actively engaged in the issues of the day, so he has always been an influential person in my political understandings. However, not long ago, I became disillusioned with Paul and suffice it to say I disagree with Paul on several key issues. There’s no need to go into the details of that transformation, but I should point out that I still agree with Paul on many things.

One thing that I particularly like about Paul is that he’s quick to criticize both of the political parties in the United States (even when he belongs to one of them). I don’t usually like to get involved in party politics, as they are usually inane, but I think Paul raises some great points that are hard to ignore. One salient point that he highlighted at last week’s Southern Republican Leadership Conference, much to the chagrin of many of the conservative Republicans in attendance, was the hypocrisy of mainstream Republicanism. He blasted them for their neoconservative tendencies. In his speech that drew both applause and ire, Paul pointed out, “The conservatives and the liberals, they both like to spend.” He condemned how “Conservatives spend money on different things.” To wit, “They like embassies, and they like occupation. They like the empire. They like to be in 135 countries and 700 bases.”

Certainly the right-wing loves to pay lip service to fiscal conservatism, balancing budgets, and keeping spending to a minimum. In practice, however, they act just the opposite, as the record clearly demonstrates. Paul, despite being a member of the Republican party, has no qualms mentioning this. Paul is right in lambasting them for their costly endeavors, which include the expansionist foreign policy, two wars in the Middle East, Wall Street bailouts, tax cuts without spending cuts, and radical spending on military. This is all okay by Republican standards, and they see no inconsistency in their rhetoric for small government and limited spending.

Republicans actually tend to outspend their Democrat counterparts. It was, after all, Bill Clinton who created a budget surplus and George W. Bush who accumulated more national debt than every other president combined (to use the words of Stephen Frank of the political science department and supported by King Banaian of the economics department). While Democrats do spend, they typically “spend money on different things,” like social programs, science, aide, education, and infrastructure. They also don’t tend go on and on about deficits, limiting spending, and so on.

The pattern is familiar. Ronald Reagan, for example, championed free markets, but very rarely ever adhered to the doctrine. Noam Chomsky refers to this as the “really existing free market doctrine,” namely because it rarely is ever consistent with “the official doctrine that is taught to and by the educated classes, and imposed on the defenceless.” George H. W. Bush railed against taxes—before he raised them. George W. Bush touted “no nation building,” before he began his senseless adventurism in the Middle East. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything else from politicians.

Indeed, to bring it to the present, Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota, claimed yesterday, “we’ve gone from the United States having 100% of the private economy private, to today the federal government effectively owns or controls 51% of the private economy” over the past 15 months of President Obama’s presidency (this is why she believes Obama is “anti-American” and “the most radical president” in U.S. history). Of course, it’s not very difficult to see how patently absurd her claims are. One of her examples is the bank bailouts. However, as FOX News’ Chris Wallace was quick to point out, it was President Bush who started those bailouts, which Bachmann responded was “unfortunate.” Certainly unfortunate for her argument. Even more unfortunate is that Obama’s actions don’t actually constitute “nationalization.”

As Ben Chabot of the Yale economics department keenly pointed out to NPR in 2008, “it’s not nationalization because they didn’t buy common stock with voting rights, so they don’t have a seat at the table.” The business press is in accord, and believe “the Obama plan is working.” But even if it was nationalization, there’s nothing “anti-American” about nationalization, as Harvard’s Richard Parker is quick to point out. He mentions our long history of government intervention and nationalization, beginning with “the Northwest Ordinance of 1789, and then the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.” He continues with mentioning the vast amount of land, airspace, roads, and valuable infrastructure that the U.S. government owns. During the two world wars, the U.S. government took over sizable portions of the economy—one reason for the U.S.’s recuperation from the Great Depression. After 9/11, Bush “effectively nationalized the private-security firms at airports, and replaced them with the federal TSA.” Needless to say, no one moaned about “anti-Americanism.” As I have always liked to mention, the United States has always been heavily involved in markets (having a Republican president or Congress makes no difference); fantasies about the “American free market system” are just that.

In my opinion, all this says something about the intellectual and moral culture of today’s Republicanism and our society in general. The underpinning assumption on which all this works is that what’s wrong for you is right for me. It’s a poor reflection that we cannot rise to even a minimal moral standard.


Glenn Beck: hypocritically unconstitutional? Sunday, Oct 11 2009 

Glenn Beck has certainly gotten a lot of disrespect on this blog (less than he certainly deserves), but it’s probably not particularly helpful to attack individuals in such a manner. He’s just a television pundit, after all. I have to admit, though, it’s really easy to do. And, unfortunately, he reaches a lot of people with his faux libertarianism (shooting untried suspects in the head has nothing to do with the philosophy). That could make him a potentially dangerous person, so it might be fair to say his statements deserve careful attention and scrutiny.

The crying talking head has, in the past, criticized international law. Opines Beck, “Once we sign our rights over to international law, the Constitution is officially dead. When you say things like, ‘We are not going to put the Constitution behind international law,’ you say that in the international court, if you say that on the floor of the United Nations, you are a freak show.” So what Beck is arguing is that when we adhere to international law and regulations, we are ignoring our U.S. Constitution. He continues, “Let me tell you something. When you can’t win with the people, you bump it up to the courts. When you can’t win with the courts, you bump it up to the international level.” Words of wisdom? In literature, you’d call that foreshadowing.

So what does Mr. Beck do when he doesn’t like a satirical Web site about him being published on the Internet? You probably guessed it: he filed a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization to have the site taken down. The site in question is, a purely satirical Web site that mocks Mr. Beck’s style of argumentation. Writes the authors of the Web site, “We’re not accusing Glenn Beck of raping and murdering a young girl in 1990 – in fact, we think he didn’t! But we can’t help but wonder, since he has failed to deny these horrible allegations.” Perhaps we could argue that it’s in bad taste, but I think it’s abundantly clear that it is Constitutionally protected speech. Mr. Beck and his lawyers know this too. That’s why they aren’t filing a libel suit against the Web site’s owners. They know the authors of this site are Constitutionally protected. They know they wouldn’t “win with the courts.” So, as Mr. Beck declared with great prophetic wisdom, “you bump it up to the international level.” Yeah, that’s one way to stifle free speech you don’t like.

As an example of the type of parodying the site does, here is what Mr. Beck said in an interview with Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in U.S. Congress: “No offense and I know Muslims, I like Muslims, I’ve been to mosques, I really don’t think Islam is a religion of evil. I think it’s being hijacked, quite frankly. With that being said, you are a Democrat. You are saying let’s cut and run. And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview because what I feel like saying is, sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies. And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy. But that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.” Well, perhaps, posits this Web site, Mr. Beck should prove to us that he has not “raped and killed a young girl in 1990.” They know he didn’t and aren’t accusing him of it, they just want to get to the bottom of it. Of course that’s not really the case. No one actually believes that, as the site explains; it’s created to show how “Glenn Beck definitely uses tactics like this to spread lies and misinformation.” As Mr. Beck asks, “What’s wrong with asking questions?” In the legal response to Mr. Beck’s complaint, the Web site’s lawyer writes that the site “has merely presented Mr. Beck with a mirror. If Beck does not like what he sees, the Respondent is not to blame.” (The Web site’s legal response is down due to traffic; but if you do get the chance to read it, do so. It’s quite genius.)

On a much serious but unrelated note that deals with rape, however, the Huffington Post published a story that I found quite disappointing. The Huffington Post points to a horrific story of a young woman, Jamie Leigh Jones, who was gang-raped by her coworkers at KBR, Inc., a subsidiary of Halliburton. She was then locked in a shipping container for over a day, without food or water. KBR/Halliburton’s defense was that the horrendous attack was considered an injury “arising in the workplace” and was therefore necessary to be adjudicated through private arbitration rather than through courts. The Department of Justice agreed. In September, however, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Jones. Al Fraken, the new U.S. Senator for Minnesota, passed a new amendment, heeding Jones’ calls, that calls for punishing contractors that “restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.” It passed, but not unanimously. Thirty Senators (all Republican, surprise) voted against the amendment to Defense Appropriations bill. The Huffington Post link lists those Senators. They really ought to be ashamed.