Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Almost every day, some constituency somewhere, maybe even just some individual person, tries to claim a veto on another person or group’s rights for a “reason” usually rooted in emotion. I’ve noticed many of these cases in North America coming out of the military realm. Do you know how hard the government makes it to get photos of dead soldiers’ caskets being unloaded? There were two stories in the past two days that caught my attention.

The first story is one that’s been percolating for a while: Snyder v. Phelps went before the Supreme Court. Albert Snyder is the father of a dead Marine who is suing Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church (infamous for their “God hates fags” signs) for picketing his son’s funeral. The Westboro people are insane bigots. They believe that almost everything bad in America is some manifestation of God punishing us for homosexuality. They famously picketed Matthew Sheppard’s funeral, too. They are not nice people. I would love to see them teleported deep into outer space some day. But they are here in our country, and as such, they have certain inalienable rights. Most importantly here, they have a right to free speech.

Snyder is a weak man. Somehow, he feels like these loons holding “God hates you” signs at his son’s funeral defamed his memory and caused the family emotional harm. If some quite-literally insane people telling you God hated your son are enough to make you emotionally distressed, maybe you weren’t very secure in loving your son enough to begin with. That’s my speculation. What I know for certain is that Snyder lowered himself to a level even lower than that of the Westboro crazies by seeking the initiation of government’s violence against people who did nothing more than speak.

This is not acceptable. I don’t care if it hurt your feelings. They did not physically hurt you. Your rights were not violated. You need to get over yourself and stop ruining things for everyone else, buddy. If you weren’t wrapping yourself in the flag and going on about soldiers and sacrifice, this case wouldn’t even be in the Supreme Court. Free speech, even for bigots, wins out over your sad heart.

The second case is less well-known and less repulsive. In Canada, a woman called Celine Lizotte, the mother of a son killed in Afghanistan, is demanding that the Quebec Women’s Federation take down an anti-war video that refers to soldiers as “cannon fodder.” I say “less repulsive” because AS YET, Ms. Lizotte is just lobbying publicly for the video to be taken down. She hasn’t tried to get the government involved or made threats herself. So this sort of action is well within her rights.

But that doesn’t mean it’s an action I support. If you don’t like the video, don’t watch it. In the meantime, maybe it will encourage some other mom to keep her son from dying like yours did. Would that be a horrible thing?

I’m tired of this crap. It happens in any number of ways, but this military fetishism is especially noticeable because we have such a military cult in America and, to a much lesser extent, Canada. Just because you put on a uniform doesn’t make you any more human or praiseworthy than the next guy, and it certainly doesn’t give you a veto right over the rights of your fellow citizens. People say soldiers fight and die for our freedom–not that I ever asked anyone to die for me, but that’s beside the point. If you really believe they are dying for our freedom, then that freedom very much includes freedom of speech.


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Reason‘s November issue just came out. One of the great things about Reason is they post a lot of their content free online immediately, and all of it free online by the next month. So this month’s cover story, “How to Slash the State” is already available now. It’s a detailed playbook of 14 cuts we could make to start paring back the state, since the allegedly anti-state Tea Partiers have such trouble coming up with anything other than “waste” and “earmarks” when they are pushed.

There was a time not so long ago, even a few months ago, when I would have loved this sort of story. I thought government was still redeemable–if not ours, at least some ideal government somewhere. I was a minarchist, even going so far as to consider joining the Libertarian Party.

Thank God those days are over.

The only way to “slash” the state that actually matters is to slash it through the jugular and slay the beast. The great Albert Jay Nock once wrote that the state “claims and exercises the monopoly of crime.” Max Weber defined it as a “monopoly of violence.” These definitions are spot on. Governments have always and will always aggress against peaceful people. The sad thing is that the vast majority of peaceful people welcome the aggression, so long as it’s directed against their neighbors. These are the people who blindly worship the police and the military, the people who support the war on drugs, the people who believe in health codes and barber shop licenses and every other trapping of Leviathan’s .

We can pare the state back, but the aggression will still be there. And chances are that any paring back will be more than offset the next time there is a crisis and unscrupulous politicians exploit Americans’ inborn attachment to fear and insecurity to take more powers for themselves.

I will continue to read Reason. I link to their blog all the time. Some of their writers, most notably Radley Balko, are best-in-class talents. But it’s clear that they don’t get it. A minimalist state is still a state, and a state will never live by the nonaggression principle supposedly held dear by the Republican-lite Libertarian Party. The only way for us to live in freedom, whether it is libertarian freedom or socialist freedom or Christian freedom, is for us to slay the state and live peacefully in small communities of mutually-consenting people.

Do your homework. Commit to memory names like Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Lysander Spooner and Leo Tolstoy. Start reading (here, here, here and here). Start listening to Free Talk Live, Thinking Liberty and the Mises Institute archives. Stop believing the state can ever be redeemed.

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There was a pretty bare-bones op-ed in the St. Petersburg Times yesterday that I rather enjoyed. Its title? “Soviet Collapse Ruined the U.S.” It’s such a massive argument that it’s almost impossible to make in the 500+ words this guy got, but he’s pretty right. His argument is that the Cold War got the U.S. to do a lot of unprecedented stuff just to stay ahead of the Soviets. Once the Soviets fell apart, the U.S. didn’t know what to do with this massive military-industrial apparatus that was by then self-perpetuating through its attachment to all sorts of pet constituencies. After a decade of searching, we found a new enemy, al-Qaeda, and now we are lavishing Cold War-magnitude resources on fighting a few hundred guys with AK-47s in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We may have won the Cold War, but at the expense of creating a military-industrial state that is now killing us.

I’m fleshing out his argument a bit. There’s also some stuff he said that I flat-out don’t agree with, like the notion that U.S. involvement in Cold War Africa was a positive externality in the realm of democratization and free markets. Oh, like supporting Mobutu Sese Soko and perpetuating the horrific war in Angola? Not so much.

But for the most part, he’s right. I have had this suspicion, certainly not original, that Osama bin Laden may not have cared how many people died on 9/11. For him, it may have just been about creating a horrifying spectacle that would be replayed again and again, making Americans seek vengeance abroad and “security” at home under the aegis of a corrupt government, equal parts morally and financially bankrupt. All he had to do was send a few guys to flight school for a few months and then wait for America to overreact with a character-destroying, treasury-emptying never-ending war. If this was bin Laden’s plan, damn him for knowing our psyche so well and exploiting it so effectively.

And let there be no doubt that this military-industrial complex is entrenched, self-perpetuating and unlikely to disappear until our country crumbles. Just this past weekend, the rot-in-Hell neocon Bill Kristol took to the WSJ to write an op-ed about how we mustn’t cut military spending. The blogosphere lit into him for it, but what does it matter? We are just the chattering classes. The only politicians serious about cutting the military budget in any meaningful way (sorry, Robert Gates) are a handful of congressmen like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Barney Frank.

The Tea Party hates the idea of spending, but seem entirely disinterested in asking the military to take cuts, let alone Social Security. The mainstream Republicans make no pretenses about their near-constant fellating of anything in uniform. And the vast majority of Democrats are either too scared to talk about cutting the defense budget for fear of how they will be painted as un-American in the next campaign’s attack ads or too wedded to unions to think about turning off the funding faucet.

It’s sick. Even if the defense budget was not dragging this country deeper into the red and helping to finish off our currency once and for all, there would still be something wrong about one country spending almost as much as the rest of the world combined on military expenditures. We don’t need these things. We don’t need the roughly 700 bases in foreign countries around the world. We don’t need wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We don’t need ever-deadlier nuclear weapons. What we need, insofar as we believe in the state at all, is a defense force that protects our homes and properties.

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Headline: “Remember, Remember Don’t Vote in November”

Money quote:

Upon this rock the entire church of state is built. Every nuance of the perpetual Black Mass we call “government” — every act of theft, extortion, brutality, murder, war read in solemn tone from the Liturgy of Realpolitik — justifies itself on the basis of this alleged “consent,” in turn symbolized by the stickers handed out across America to those leaving the polling place: “I Voted!”

And I concede this much: The political priesthood has a point. If you enter the church, if you kneel before the altar, if you swear your eternal fealty to Leviathan, if you accept the sacred ballot, make your mark upon it and place it in the magic box, how can you possibly not be bound up in and beholden to the miracle of counting the priests then perform?

So the language is a bit overblown and dramatic, but the point is spot on. Don’t vote. I love these people who claim that not voting means you don’t have the right to complain. Um, actually, Mr. Civics, voting means you don’t have the right to complain. Voting means you think it’s ok for whichever villain wins to use force against peaceful people. Voting means you think this system that sees no right or wrong, only big numbers, is ok. Voting means you accept being a slave.

By all means, learn the issues and candidates by heart. Know thine enemy. But never allow these sick people who want control over our lives to think they do it with our consent.

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NPR’s Talk of the Nation invited Ted Koppel on to do an op-ed discussion on Monday. I had nothing against Ted Koppel. I thought he was an ok newsman and his NPR commentaries have, at times, been informative. That all changed on Monday when he let loose this pro-draft, pro-war tax op-ed that I consider the most shameful thing I have ever heard on NPR.

Koppel’s main point was that part of the reason the country is sleepwalking through the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that most people haven’t felt the wars’ impact. We haven’t levied any special sort of war tax and there’s no longer a military draft. The burden of the war is  falling disproportionately on future generations (footing the bill) and military families (burying servicemen).

I can agree with everything about this point; I’ve even blogged about it.

What set me off is that Ted Koppel actually wants to institute a war tax and bring back conscription to get people thinking about the wars and to “share the burden” across society. I love the idea that because the military is sending a lot of soldiers home dead and maimed, we should make sure that more people have an opportunity to go fight an unjust war and come home dead or maimed. If the “burden” involves bodily harm, do you really want to spread it more widely? Beyond the volunteers? But most importantly, we don’t need to sacrifice our rights just to make a point to uninformed people.

Maybe if journalists like Ted Koppel had asked real questions leading up to the war in Iraq, maybe if they had used words like “torture” to describe the torture at Guantanamo Bay, maybe if they hadn’t sat on stories like the infamous WikiLeaks Apache helicopter attack video, maybe if they hadn’t been worthless lackeys of state power, the public wouldn’t have become so uninformed and we would have ended these wars long ago or never even started them. Just an idea.

Advocating for the draft is in a class by itself. I could probably live with a war tax. It’s offensive and it would perpetuate the war if anything, but at least it wouldn’t be killing people or violating fundamental rights. But a draft is gross. A draft is the state telling its citizens that they owe their lives (and by extension, their deaths) to the state with no questions asked.

I don’t know about you guys, but I am not a slave to the state. I did not ask for any war in Iraq or Afghanistan to be fought in my name. I did not sign off on those wars. And if this government ever tried to draft me to fight in our two current immoral wars or any in the future, I wouldn’t even wait so long as to sleep one more night in this country before escaping. No government owns my life.

There were even some callers who wanted to talk about just ending the wars and making these points moot. But just like that White House official who admitted that we are planning to be in Afghanistan for the long-term, Ted Koppel the inside-the-Beltway “serious” man told the audience that he wasn’t there to debate the war. What a shameless cop-out, Ted. If Ted Koppel had been doing an interview, would he have been pleased to accept such a pitiful answer from his interviewee?

So Ted Koppel, I dare you to reinstate the draft. Please, draft me. It will give me exactly the excuse I need to get out of this country.

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Via The Corner, Helle Dale writes about how China is “beating” the U.S. in the public diplomacy sphere. Her basic point is that whilst post-Cold War America has let down its campaign to spread democracy and American culture abroad, China has stepped into the vacuum to aggressively promote itself and its model through state-backed international media organs and cultural programs abroad. Quel dommage! How will America ever win back those hearts and minds unless we amp up our propaganda budget?!

This essay just bugged me. America shouldn’t have to pay at all for public diplomacy. Our nation is founded upon a set of timeless principles that appeal to fundamental human desires. The best things we can do to promote our country abroad are to respect human and civil rights, to be prosperous and to be happy. Producing Hollywood movies and cheesy pop music certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

Oh yeah, and we should also not do things that are deeply antithetical to our foundational principles. Things like preemptive invasions of other countries, complete disrespect for due process and torture. Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are two of the biggest public diplomacy gifts we ever gave our public diplomacy competitors.

On the other hand, China has to work so aggressively to promote itself abroad because the Chinese regime is philosophically bankrupt. They don’t respect human rights. What sort of idea-victory can they promote abroad, that their ruling party is so opportunistic it was willing to sell out its foundational principles in order to survive? I read one of the aforementioned regime-funded media organs every day and it doesn’t make me like China any more at all. In fact, I’m disgusted by China’s shamelessness in working with criminals from countries like Sudan and DR Congo.

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NYT ran a piece on austerity’s toll on the suddenly-thinner social safety net in Europe. I enjoyed the article, but I found it pretty hard to concentrate once I realized I was being asked to empathize with a Spanish couple who earn a combined $3200/month, have one child already and another on the way and now are going to have to scale back their budget because they just can’t afford things like trips to Russia and China, flat screen TVs, a bigger car and home renovations anymore. Seriously? I know plenty of people who earn much more than $3200/month and don’t treat themselves to things like that. It would be nice if we could make all of our dreams come true on $3200/month, but it’s not realistic and it would probably destroy a lot of work ethics if it was. Both Europe and America need a heavy dose of realism right now as we start to fight back against this budgetary flabbiness.

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