Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lean Forward...

Holy schmoly... Something I made just blewwwwwww up.... Win!

So have you seen MSNBC's stupid "Lean Forward" campaign? All their anchors and hosts are in these short, 20-30 second, bits making asinine logical fallacies and exposing their abysmal failure to understand even the most basic concepts of economics in support of a massive state.

Now keep in mind that all MSNBC's people are doing this, so there are moronic videos from Ed Schultz, Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr., Chris Matthews and all the rest... But for my purposes today, I need to single out and pick on Rachel Maddow.

Maddow claims to be "obsessively devoted to facts" in one of these videos.

Thing is... She's not really all that good with facts, as it turns out. For example, she'd also like you to believe that it isn't going to be a "profit-making venture for some company" to build... A bridge.

You heard me. Check it out:

She says, "It's never going to be a profit-making venture for some company to build this idea...", as she points behind her to a bridge... Seriously. A BRIDGE!??

Miss "Obsessively Devoted to Facts" couldn't do the 30 seconds worth of research that it might take someone to discover that virtually all the bridges in America were built by private companies seeking to profit?


Of course we should all understand that even when the government pays for the bridges to be built, most bridges are designed and constructed by private companies competing with each other for those contracts.

But in fact, once upon a time, not even that long ago, government didn't have anything to do with it at all... For example, the uber-capitalist himself, Andrew Carnegie, was the proud owner of a major bridge-building operation called Keystone Bridge Company, which built dozens of bridges "for profit".

Why, here's one of their fabulous bridges now!

Pretty nice, right? Easily as nice as the bridge in the background of the Maddow video, no?

Wanna know something else? The Keystone Bridge Company was eventually purchased by a J.P. Morgan-owned company called the American Bridge Company, which owned around 30 additional for profit bridge manufacturing firms.

But hey, that's not possible, because building bridges isn't a "profit making venture", she says.

This is the beef I have with these Lean Forward videos in general. In each instance, the host/anchor is saying something flagrantly stupid yet with the epitome of arrogance and smug, self-satisfaction. It's such a perfect maelstrom of pretentiousness and ignorance that it was crying out to be parodied... Thus... That's exactly what I did.

Check it out:

MSNBC likes to talk a big game about being news for "smart" people... But what it really manages to be in most cases is simply news for ignorant, economically and historically illiterate people. For all of the Fox hatred, I don't think Fox would have done something like this... The worst they're going to do is say something silly about how ridiculously awesome America is, and how our militaristic power gives us the right to do whatever we want - possibly on the basis that someone else would fill the void if we weren't there, and they'd be "worse".

Fine... That stuff may be wrong, but for whatever reason, it just doesn't offend me intellectually the way MSNBC's Lean Forward campaign does.

Perhaps that's because the war-mongering and fist-pumping that originates at Fox isn't a problem with basic facts, it's a problem with bad philosophy and false premises... Actually, scratch that, it's not a problem necessarily of incorrect facts, so much as a problem of incomplete facts (e.g., yes, we were attacked on 9/11, but thinking that the story starts or ends there and whatever America does in response is perfectly acceptable is insane).

At least for me, this is what makes Fox irritating as a network, but I've never seen them do promotional videos like these and honestly... it's boring talking about Fox. Everybody talks about and makes fun of Fox.

The difference for me really comes down to the smug. MSNBC's overall editorial position is based on equally (perhaps worse in some ways) bad philosophy, and equally false premises to Fox, but given how insanely smug their network and all their anchors are... You'd think they could get something as simple as the idea of private, for-profit bridge companies correct. If you're going to be a preachy jagweed, you should probably have a point that actually makes some sense.

Unfortunately, their blatantly socialist propagandizing requires them to believe that government provides all the good, big and important stuff like bridges... Even when that's simply not true.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Notes From the Past

Had a long discussion with a friend today about many things, and I promised to email her links to my blog. So now that I'm home, I started thinking about what posts I thought best represented Logicology and my writing, and thus I began perusing old posts, starting with the beginning of my Blogger usage in late 2007.

I had been blogging for a few years prior to that, but not on any very good platforms, and at the time I think I was writing a few massive Facebook "notes" each week. And at the time, as I recall, my constant Facebooking was starting to annoy people.

Turns out my problem at the time wasn't the prolific amount of content I was generating, but that my audience wasn't really very interested or targeted. Apparently high school and college musician friends don't really care to spend much time talking about what's wrong with Paul Krugman's latest column.

Who knew?

Anyway... Now that I am reviewing some of these old blogs I figured it could be fun to pull some excerpts from my previous writings. Strap in, this may get interesting.

From June 7th, 2008:
"That said, we are now left with two shitty options for president, hooray! Aren't elections great???

Yeah. Ok, so Obama is a socialist who would like to "solve" our problems by contributing an extra 200+ billion dollars to the federal budget, expand the powers of the presidency some more (after 8 years of Bush doing just that, I'm a little surprised not one party-nominated candidate save Bob Barr is talking about *reducing* the scope of presidential authority!), keep us in an un-winnable war at least for a few more years, and push for more autocratic, monolithic government micromanagement of healthcare, energy and transportation industries.


McCain, by "contrast" might only raise the federal budget, according to some analysts, by about 15, Carl Sagan Billion with a "B", Billion dollars in clearly marked spending, but keep us in an unwinnable war for "100 years", advocates a lot of the same New Deal socialism that Obama does and would expand the powers of the presidency even farther in terms of military related issues.

Boy was I way off! Not only did Obama fail to "solve" America's economic problems, he did so far more spectacularly than I had imagined at the time. To be fair, this was a few months before George W. Bush kicked off America's version of a "lost decade" with a $700 Billion bailout.

Instead of a scant $200 Billion, Obama has increased spending by about $8 Trillion, and increased deficit spending to a whopping $1.4 Trillion per year! Just the 2011 deficit alone is well over 6, maybe 7 times what I'd predicted Obama would add to the budget.

AND, as a special bonus, he's kept us in the existing wars, expanding our presence in Afghanistan and adding a brand new war in Libya plus a huge amount of unspoken war in Pakistan and elsewhere.


One can only imagine how much different McCain (who also stopped his campaign in late 2008 to go support the bailouts and stimulus nonsense) might have been. I struggle to see how he could have been "worse".

Later, on December 8th, 2008
"I need a presidential candidate to understand the Constitutional limitations of his power, I need a presidential candidate who will act as a legitimate check against the abuses of legislature by actually vetoing bills (as Bush almost *never* did), I need a presidential candidate who doesn't muck up the meaning of the document he's sworn in to protect by hiring teams of lawyers to find legalese loopholes in wording to do anything he damn well pleases in foreign & domestic policy... I need a presidential candidate who understands the Enlightenment philosophy that guided our nation's founders and created the framework for the greatest era of social, political, religious, & economic freedom the world has ever experienced. An era rapidly diminishing.
Still diminishing... Though we may be poised for a shift.

In one of the first instances of me talking about President Obama as Bush V.02, on March 9th, 2009 I wrote:
"Just to clarify here... Obama first blames Bush for *expanding* the government and deficit spending - a perfectly valid, and rather important criticism. Then he says that because of those policies, he has essentially no choice but to do the same thing.

Of course he also throws in the "lax regulation" bogeyman."
And.... He's still doin' that.

Then I got serious about the stimulus packages and Ben Bernanke's constant idiocy. In "Ben Bernanke's Pitiful Prognostication", on June 3rd, 2009, I wrote:
"Now, all that said, there is a much more insidious character to the fact that all this mad Government spending hasn't actually made it into the regular economy yet... What the time lag on the stimulus spending really means to us ordinary folks is that the coming hyper-inflation necessarily won't be noticeable or really "start" happening for a couple years yet. Unfortunately, that's going to lull an awful lot of people into a false sense of security and the belief that the "worst is over".

It isn't.

As inflation starts to set in and cost of everything rises, there is naturally a time lag between prices rising and wages rising and certainly history has shown that the faster the increase in inflation, the greater the gap between cost of living and wages can become. As that happens over the next 5-6 years, the real standard of living in America will continue to decrease significantly - and with it comes wonderful things like civil unrest, hunger and possibly increases in crime & violence."
Fortunately not too much of an increase in crime, but of course as I've written multiple times, inflation is most assuredly rearing its ugly head. Again, Bernanke is out there claiming that the increase in prices on raw goods & commodities, and the rising cost of living for everyone is no big deal.

Not so hilariously, a prediction I made in that blog came true a couple weeks later. On June 14th, 2009 there's this:
"A few of my predictions from the Ben Bernanke blog (below) have already come true...

Here's VP; Joe Biden spinning the "recovery" efforts as not going as well because things were worse than they'd estimated.

From this article:
"everyone guessed wrong" on the impact of the stimulus, economy was worse off than anyone thought.
Everyone, huh? Evvveryone.... Right... Everyone.

Good lord..."
This isn't fun any more...

This whole process just kinda goes on like this. I make predictions, I generally say something is a terrible idea, I explain precisely why it's a terrible idea, and then I watch as the predictable consequences unfold in real time.

On Cash for Clunkers, I originally wrote this:
"There's simply no excuse for the idiocy that is Cash for Clunkers. No, it's not a huge program compared the rest of the bailouts and the massive printing of monopoly money that we've seen in the last year. No, it's not the worst thing that's ever happened in terms of big-government stupid, but it's a perfect example of Bastiat's broken-window fallacy."
Turns out I was right about that too... Cost of used cars has gone up 30% in three years, and there was no long-term boost to demand for new cars at all - simply a shift where all the new purchases for 2009 were concentrated into a few months.

Check it out for yourself:

I really don't know why anyone is surprised by this stuff, but it seems they always are. The same pattern can be observed throughout all the rest of the government stimulus spending. Stimulus spending only "works" so long as government is continually pumping money into the program.

By the way, Cash for Clunkers wound up costing over $3 Billion... Hooray!

Now that all that money has been consumed, there is no real consumer demand driving new purchases, so the spike goes away, and sales fall... and continue to fall. This stuff really shouldn't be rocket science. People as "smart" as Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner shouldn't struggle with these realities so much.

The fact that they do suggests to me that they really aren't that bright after all.

At any rate, I could go on like this kind of endlessly until we get to the present day. Most of my predictions have been dead on. Obviously, like any sane economist will tell you, predictions in that realm  are not ever going to be perfectly timed - and I don't waste my time offering to predict precisely when something is going to occur, but the logic is always clear enough to understand the likely consequences.

If you print a ton of money, prices are going to shoot up. If you give people thousands of dollars to buy a new car, those who were already planning on committing to the expense will shift their purchase into the window of time alloted for them to get the "free money". If you raise taxes, increase the burdens of regulation and generally create mass uncertainty in costs for the business community, then the business community isn't going to do much investing or expansion. They might even leave the state, or the country, for greener pastures.

I honestly wish people weren't continually surprised by this stuff. It's way too predictable... See above.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What Inflation? Round 2

Last year in October, I wrote a blog called "What Inflation?", chronicling the depressing - yet meteoric - rise of commodities prices. Kitco's exposure of a 38.6% increase in the price of a basket of raw & wholesale goods really highlighted the gap between reality and the utter bullshit that Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke and most of the rest of government would like us to believe.

Recently, the Heartland Institute posted a blog post on "deciphering" Bernanke's nonsense:
"Bernanke: FOMC participants see inflation remaining low; most project that overall inflation will be about 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 percent this year and in the range of 1 to 2 percent next year and in 2013. Private-sector forecasters generally also anticipate subdued inflation over the next few years. Measures of medium- and long-term inflation compensation derived from inflation-indexed Treasury bonds appear broadly consistent with these forecasts.

More broadly, the increases in commodity prices in recent months have largely reflected rising global demand for raw materials, particularly in some fast-growing emerging market economies, coupled with constraints on global supply in some cases. Commodity prices have risen significantly in terms of all major currencies, suggesting that changes in the foreign exchange value of the dollar are unlikely to have been an important driver of the increases seen in recent months.

Deciphered: The Fed doesn’t recognize a lag between its creation of money and an increase in current dollar spending. Instead we prefer to look at inflation over the past year as a guide to whether we create too much money. Just because this means we have often reacted two to three years too late in responding to any inflation threat doesn’t bother us at all."
Seriously though... Bernanke claims that inflation will be about 1.25-1.75% for this year.


Well, why don't we look at a few graphs, huh? There aren't a lot of great ways to calculate price increases, but as we know, the Consumer Price Index is certainly one of them. So what's CPI look like over the last year? Let's check it out:

To be clear, I've chosen this graph, which includes commodities that standard CPI disincludes, because in my world, real people buy food and energy, and when those prices go up that actually effects real people. So let's ask ourselves.... Does it look to you like there hasn't been any inflation? Looks like that to me...

BLS is actually reporting that non-annualized inflation over the past year has been higher than Bernanke's comments would suggest:
" The 12-month increases of major indexes continue to climb. The all items index rose 3.2 percent for the 12 months ending April 2011, the highest figure since October 2008. The energy index has now risen 19.0 percent over the last 12 months, with the gasoline index up 33.1 percent. The food index has risen 3.2 percent while the index for all items less food and energy has increased 1.3 percent; both figures represent increases over recent months."
Of course, I'm only using government metrics so far, which are spectacularly weak measurements for inflation and are predictably ridiculously biased towards making the government look good... or failing that, at least to making them look not like the royal failures they actually are on economic issues.

So what's a more accurate inflation rate?

Economist, Marc Faber is calculating between 5-8% inflation. ShadowStats is calculating the real inflation rate (using consistent reporting standards from the 1990s) at around 11%. CPI measurements have drastically changed over the years, always to make the statistics seem "better" - just like the government's definition of "recessions" and their calculations for unemployment rates.

From www.dshort.com
The changes in data collection are usually packaged as "improvements", but the reality is that they make comparisons to historical economic events really tricky. People look at the 16+% unemployment rate during the Great Depression, and they think... Well hey, our 9-10% isn't so bad! Alas, by 1940 standards, our unemployment rate is around 17%.

Whoops! Metrics matter. Changing calculation methods matters. Without understanding this stuff, there's no way for people to understand the numbers the government has been churning out over the last few years.

Additionally... It's probably a good time to have a little refresher course on how ridiculously bad Keynesians predictions - who, it should be noted, make a special point of viewing economics as a "predictive" science - have actually been over the last 100 years.

Thomas Woods handles that nicely:

Yeah. They're not very good at this at all.

Yet we constantly listen to people like Bernanke, Krugman, DeLong, Summers, Romer(s), Goolsbee, Geithner, etc. and let them continually make adjusted "predictions" that turn out to be utterly false. These people are wrong time and time again, and yet each time they make a pronouncement about how the economy is doing, and what it's going to look like within the next 6 months, we act like they know what they're doing.

They don't.

Simply put, Bernanke is full of shit. I don't know how else to say it. Anyone with half a brain who has been doing their own shopping over the last year knows full-well that prices have shot up. Anyone who has remotely been paying attention to the job situation in the United States knows that the unemployment situation is still shockingly bad.

ShadowStats also provides a breakdown of unemployment rates.

Real metrics on that put us close to - if not well over - 20%. The 9% the government claims we're at right now relies on an extremely limited definition of the "labor force" and simply omits millions of people who would love to be working or who would love to work a hell of a lot more than they are currently working. If you're an engineer working at McDonald's part time.... Guess what, you count as "employed"!!

I suspect your family doesn't really see it that way though.

Get that? We're seeing consistently high unemployment (going on 3 years now). We've got a consistently high inflation rate, in spite of what the government has been saying. What does that mean to you?

Did you say "Stagflation"? Man... I did!

One way or another, I'm sick of going over this again and again and again. The government is lying. Simple as that. They've been doing it for pretty much the whole of its existence and I'm not sure why we should think they'd have stopped in the middle of a horrendous recession, caused primarily by the government's previously enacted policies. But no matter how nonsensical their numbers, no matter how much this stuff doesn't remotely line up with obvious, observable reality, a ton of people are still totally happy to lap it up.

What? GDP is increasing? Well that's great!!

Never mind that these numbers merely reflect the expansion of the currency and the inevitable price increases that have been generated as a result. 

Yes friends... Inflation is real. It's taking huge bites out of your dollar's purchasing power, and the fact that you're job situation and salary hasn't really improved at all means that each dollar counts more and more.

Seriously though... It's time we all started ignoring Bernanke. He's a moron.

First Do No Harm.

Boy was I surprised to find something truly excellent in the Huffington Post this evening. From the publisher of a somewhat odd website, www.watchingamerica.com, British writer Robin Koerner comes a brilliant piece titled: "'First Do No Harm': Constitutional and Conservative Liberals"

The whole piece is absolutely a "must read", but there are few passages that particularly stand out. First is:
"Over the last century, the Left have tended to harp on about the corruption of corporate and financial interests, while the Right have tended to harp on about the corruption of State interests.

Meanwhile, corporate interests have made the State corrupt by financing it, and the State has made corporations corrupt through corporatist law-making. The net effect is that the State has concentrated power, and the corporations -- and in particular banks -- have concentrated wealth. The rest of us have paid for it in liberty and wealth, respectively.

The rise of the welfare state has depended on the rise of the crony capitalism -- and vice versa, and the mechanism is not hard to understand.

Banks create money and thereby inflation under license from the government. Wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of bankers as they charge interest on the money they create. This interest has eventually to be paid by the users of that money -- workers and the middle class -- out of the wealth they gain through their labor. In other words, over time, the products of human labor accumulate as assets to those that deal only in money and make nothing good. The government's interest in this system is that it allows them to create and borrow money to fund their schemes without having to tax the people their full cost. In other words, it helps them get votes and retain power."
I've written about these issues so many times, it's thoroughly gratifying to see someone else tackling the issues in a bigger forum than I've ever had. The Huffington Post audience needs to understand this stuff.

Koerner goes on to correctly explain that the creation of money is inflation, and that the debasement of the currency is the primary driver of unjust economic inequalities. Note here that I say "unjust" deliberately, because economic inequality is also a legitimate consequence of differences in individual choice and skill.

More from the article:
"To keep the system running without riots in the street, the same government officials who license the banks to print money pass welfare laws, which keep the disenfranchised at the bottom, but off the streets.

Therefore, there is no welfarism, beloved of the old Left, without crony capitalism (which pays for it). And there is no crony capitalism, beloved of the old Right, without welfarism (which maintains the political stability that protects it).

None of this is Constitutional. And none of it is conducive to liberty or the honest pursuit of happiness."
The "left" and the "right" are culpable here, and both brands of statist work off of each other in this unintentionally (being generous) symbiotic way to erode the financial and social stability of the United States.

As bleak as this all seems, Koerner notes that there are "glimmers" of hope. At this point, his writing moves from insightful, to brilliant and essential:
"Two maxims appear to be more pertinent today than ever in American politics.

The first is, "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop," known as Herbert Stein's Law.

The second is Churchill's observation that "the Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they've exhausted all other possibilities."

The last, best hope for the Last, Best Hope is that both quotes are right.

Just as the Left-Right axis has operated over time to bankrupt the nation, financially and ethically, those who are often misunderstood by the mainstream to be of the extreme left and the extreme right (but who are in truth neither) are working together, sometimes consciously and sometimes entirely by accident, to undo the bankrupt American settlement, and revitalize the country's founding promise.

For example, the man I saw on cable news waving his pocket Constitution as the anchor asked him why he thought Obama should not have gone into Libya could have been Ron Paul, but was in fact Dennis Kucinich. The man I saw proposing a cut in the military, among other things, to balance the budget could have been Dennis Kucinich, but was in fact Rand Paul. And the man who recently composed a legislative amendment with the words, ""The President does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation," should have been someone from the party of the man who said it, but was again that "extremist of the tea party" (if you listen to the mainstream media or many of the moderates from the party of the speaker of those words), Rand Paul.

Something is surely afoot when the "extremists" are advocating such extreme positions as not invading countries without declaring war, spending no more than revenues, using money that is worth something and not passing laws that allows government agents to invade the privacy of citizens without cause, and the "moderates" are advocating spending trillions more than we earn, dropping bombs on people who don't threaten us, giving money to people who destroy value, and voiding the fourth amendment without so much as a "by the way"."

As one who has been called an extremist many times before, I often find it an oddity. I commented earlier today, in fact, that Chris Wallace called Ron Paul's more libertarian positions, "controversial".

My friend Hannah correctly noted that the wording was accurate, in that his positions do cause controversy. But the real question is... Why?

Why is it controversial... Why is it "extreme" in ANY sense to argue for a reduction of the state's power to bankrupt the nation and to keep us in a perpetual state of warfare? Why would it be "extreme" in any way to argue against the kind of government and politicians who have failed at every turn to bring about a more prosperous or secure nation, and who believe that every aspect of people's lives should be subject to the fiat whims of a ruling elite?

I am far more "extreme" than either Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, but as fairly strict Constitutionalists, both of those men are far closer to advocating anything I find remotely sane than the vast majority of politicians who I've met since being in Washington, much less of those (others) running for political office... And yet, I find neither Paul (or his son) nor Kucinich to be remotely controversial or extreme in their positions.

How have we gotten to a point where a relatively principled defense of liberty and the Constitution is an "extremist" view? What sad world is this?

The final point, Mr. Koerner makes is yet another I have made for years. The political spectrum is divided into "left" and "right" extremely haphazardly, and perpetuating the false dichotomy doesn't really help.
"The Constitution is not left or right-wing, and both Left and Right are starting to see that the most egregious acts that have been performed in the interest of the governing and the financial classes have in common that they defy the Constitution, typically by violating the rights of some for the benefit of others.

"First, Do No Harm," is the Constitution in four words, and should be the rallying cry of conservative liberals everywhere.

The so-called "radicals" like Paul and Kucinich who appear through the old left-right filter to be so different, are more importantly defined by what they have in common -- a principled attempt to protect American Constitutional rights that, while radical in 1776, should not even be up for discussion today.

Of the men I've mentioned, the darling of Constitutionalists today is Ron Paul. He has so far out-raised all of the potential GOP candidates for 2012, even while many of the MSM continue to conduct their polls (among likely Republican voters) often times without even including his name. I don't know exactly what that means, but I know it means something, and I like it."
Sadly, I see the push to ignore Dr. Paul every day, and it's rather frustrating. Watching the media, mainstream and otherwise, deliberately disregard the man is obnoxious, though I take some solace in the knowledge that the medias days as gate-keepers to political candidates are seriously numbered.

That's right. A blimp!
One day, not too long from now, we will exist in a world where the internet will break down the barrier between potential candidates and the people who are electing them, and this will be an immensely good day. I witness a handful of reporters within Washington DC establishment effectively dictating who the American public is allowed to get to know, simply by deciding which candidates to report on and which to dismiss.

The truly disappointing aspect of this process is that their picks for people who are "electable" are thoroughly uninteresting asshats like Tim Pawlenty... So I'm going to make a prediction here about the 2012 election.

If the GOP puts up another establishment Republican... a neocon, corporatist, war-mongering jagweed... as they tend to do, they will lose spectacularly against a virtually identical Barack Obama.

Obama is every bit a neocon as anybody I've ever seen. He's been a huge benefactor to Wall Street, he's been a huge benefactor to the Military Industrial Complex. He's expanded wars, eroded liberties and bankrupted this country faster - by far - than even George W. Bush did.

But he's a masterful campaigner. Brilliant... Genius, even. He's personally likable, he's currently got "the youth vote" in droves, and he's an incumbent. If the Republican party runs somebody who is a watered down version of Obama, they don't stand the slightest chance. The only person I personally see with even the slightest shot is somebody like Ron Paul who has a record that can be taken seriously on corporatism, on the Fed, on foreign policy... I know a lot of Republicans disagree that he can be taken seriously on foreign policy, but I think they're all missing the obvious points on that score.

I think that if someone like Ron Paul was in an election against Obama, he would win. He beats Obama on every single campaign promise Obama has failed to live up to, and he does it with a deep understanding of economics and liberty.

At the very least, a guy like that would "do no harm".-

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bin Laden Killing: Yes, It WAS Illegal.

Alright... I think this will be my final Bin Laden related post... I'm really just getting tired of the whole thing. What's done is done.

But the other day, Vice President Joseph Biden - when asked about the Osama bin Laden killing by CBS White House correspondent, Jake Tapper - responded:
"Are you kidding?"
People laughed, nobody gave it much thought. Both partisan Democrats (out of partisan hackery?) and Republicans (out of... USA USA USA!!) agreed.

A few people have been talking about it over the last few weeks, and most have been ignored or mocked. Judge Andrew Napolitano and Ron Paul have, of course, dealt with the issue, Salon's Glenn Greenwald as well.

But apart from a handful of outliers, it seems to me that most people simply don't care.

However, let's be real for a second, shall we? Osama bin Laden's death was unquestionably illegal, not only by the standards of international law, but by the standards of American law as well. As I wrote last weekend, "legality" of his killing is less of a concern to me than the morality of ending an unarmed man's life without any form of due process, trial, or eminent danger.

Many people I have talked with in the last few weeks about this issue emphatically remind me over and over that Osama bin Laden didn't allow any of the 3,000+ innocent men and women of the World Trade Center any form of "due process" before he ordered their deaths. True... But that's precisely the instant where Osama bin Laden - for all of his religious moralizing - ceded righteousness. It's precisely why America should NOT have responded in kind.

The thing is, justice means temperance, not revenge. Deliberate thought, not violent emotive outbursts.

America simply cannot be a beacon of freedom, consistency of principle, opportunity and justice if we don't actually act with those ideals in mind. Killing an unarmed man in his home in a country we are not actually at war with (even by the current half-assed and unconstitutional standards) is not acting within American ideals.

Due process is incredibly important to us as Americans and it absolutely needs to remain that way.

Unfortunately, rights to due process are steadily eroding around the US, and it's thoroughly been abandoned in our dealings with other nations. This is a dangerous precedent... and the Osama bin Laden killing is hardly the most disturbing event on that scale.

Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court just shockingly ruled against the 4th Amendment:
"NDIANAPOLIS | Overturning a common law dating back to the English Magna Carta of 1215, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Hoosiers have no right to resist unlawful police entry into their homes.

In a 3-2 decision, Justice Steven David writing for the court said if a police officer wants to enter a home for any reason or no reason at all, a homeowner cannot do anything to block the officer's entry."
Uh... What?? In case you didn't catch that, what Indiana is saying is that if you live in their state, you have no right to resist a police officer entering your home - even if they are doing so completely illegally with no warrant, no cause and no right. Resisting unlawful behavior by the police is now... outlawed. Can you think of a better way to impose a state of fear and intimidation among your citizens short of indiscriminately shooting at people?

I can't.

And yet for so many people in America, this kind of thing seems to be ignored. Consider that Ron Paul was laughed at and scorned a few days ago for suggesting that there were other ways to get Osama bin Laden and that a nation that disrespects international law and tortures prisoners of war is a nation that might very well ignore its own laws in the pursuit of what - even a majority of - misguided individuals believe constitutes "justice" right here at home.

Ask yourself, though: How is the ruling in Indiana not EXACTLY what Congressman Paul was talking about?

If the American government feels perfectly justified in sending armed men into a foreign country and shooting an unarmed man in the head - no matter how bad that man was - then why would we expect that same government to have any qualms what-so-ever about its police officers entering a citizen's home without so much as a "Howdy, ma'am"?

PS... They already do exactly this frequently.

Sure, you might come back at me with the idea that Osama bin Laden wasn't a US citizen, so he's not protected by our constitution - and while that is technically true based on legal precedent, it's grossly missing the point. But if this is what you think, let me remind you of something Thomas Jefferson wrote:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Notice that Jefferson did not write "All people living within the arbitrarily defined geopolitical boundaries soon to be called 'The United States of America'". He wrote "All men"... which is now interpreted to mean "All people". The philosophy which guided those words is defined by a belief in "unalienable" natural rights, not granted by government, but innately a part of every human being. Thomas Paine further expounded on this idea in "The Rights of Man". He wrote:
"It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect — that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few . . . They . . . consequently are instruments of injustice."
If you believe that people have the right to life, liberty and property as the American revolutionaries did, then you should understand that those rights aren't a function of being "American", but of being human. If you understand that, then you must realize that any instance of international execution, the torture of "enemy combatants" or any other violations of rights perpetrated by agents of the United States, cannot simply be justified by saying "Well, hey, they aren't US Citizens, so the Bill of Rights doesn't apply to them."

What makes the idea of America so great is that the government is not supposed to be above the law, and that the law is defined in such a way to enshrine the protection of people's natural rights to life, liberty & property. Just because the government, or even the entire country hates a person... and no matter how justified that hatred is, the government does not have the moral or constitutional authority to simply kill that person at a whim.

Bin Laden deprived many people of their lives and for that he of course needed to be brought to justice, but the key question here is, what does "justice" really mean?

I know that analogizing Bin Laden is going to be extremely difficult for a lot of people to accept, but the name of this blog is Logicology, is it not?

So let's use some logic.

First, recognize that murder is not a crime simply because it is listed in the law books as a crime (that would be question begging), but because everybody is an autonomous, self-owning individual who has the moral right to exist and act as they see fit and murder deprives people of that moral right. Incidentally, the violation of people's individual sovereignty is the only justification for considering anything a crime (i.e. "victimless" crimes are not crimes at all by this definition).

So, by that definition (and any other I can think of), Osama bin Laden was undoubtedly a criminal - one of the worst of all time. He was a mass murderer to be sure, but to be clear, what I'm establishing here is that... in principle... he was no different than a junkie who kills his drug dealer over a few grams of cocaine. Both are murderers, but there is no principle difference between the two - only a difference in severity & scale.

Are we clear on this? I just want to talk about the principles involved.

Good. Now... Forget about Osama bin Laden. Let's just talk about that hypothetical murdering junkie.

How would you want the US government to react to the junkie who kills his dealer? Do you want cops to take an educated guess about where that junkie lives, kick the door in and start shooting until everybody is dead? Or do you want the cops to resort to deadly force as a last resort, arrest the junkie, give him a trial and send him to prison (or even execute him if you support that sort of thing)?

Now... What if it wasn't a junkie and it wasn't murder?

What if it's a shoplifter who stole a few hundred dollars worth of shoes from a popular department store? How should we go about delivering justice? Do we make an accusation of the person we think is responsible and throw them in jail without trial?

I think on these lesser crimes, most people would answer that of course we don't want the cops to go around arresting and imprisoning people without trial, and we certainly don't want a police force who feels so assured of their righteousness that they are comfortable opening fire on unarmed, non-threatening suspects purely because they are certain of guilt.

So the analogy is this: If you wouldn't be ok with the police instantly killing an unarmed man known to be a murderer, but who poses no immediate threat to the lives of the officers - why should you be ok with the killing of an unarmed Osama bin Laden? Why would you prefer that we did that, rather than capture him and hold him up for all the world to see as not only a symbol of American resolve and tenacity, but as a symbol of true justice.

We have instead demonstrated that justice was merely a secondary concern to revenge.

The framers of the Constitution recognized correctly that the state is force. Government is violence, and in spite of how poorly concealed that fact is, many people still have trouble grasping the concept. Fortunately the men who established our guiding principles as a nation did understand that, and were clear to place restrictions on the government dictating how and under which circumstances violence was appropriate.

Most of our laws stem from these ideas... and rightly so.

Police may shoot a suspect if the suspect is posing an immediate threat to the lives of the police officers. Likewise, our military can shoot enemy combatants if they are being shot at or within the context of a military engagement. Our police are not generally supposed to be allowed (although they frequently do) to break into someone's house and shoot up the place without a substantial amount of due process leading up to it, and there should (although, unfortunately almost never is) be severe punishments for any police officers who shoot and kill anyone - including known criminals - unless absolutely necessary.

Our military is generally not supposed to be allowed to do that either. For example, once an enemy has surrendered, an American soldier that harms or kills that prisoner should be subject to military tribunal and court martial.

The way we treat our enemies says far more about us than it does about them, and for these reasons and countless others, we should not be the nation that sends a team of soldiers to execute an unarmed man - regardless of how bad a guy he is. Would we like to be seen as a nation of thugs and murderers, or rapists and torturers, like so many of our enemies are? Or would we rather be seen as a force for good in the world, acting with violence only when necessary?

I don't particularly want to live in a world where the United States military is nothing more than an international kill-squad... and that is why you should care about the legality - and the morality - of killing Osama Bin Laden.

What I'm saying is, is it morally justifiable for the US military to execute unarmed men (and women, by the way)? To put it a bit more crudely, but accurately, does the severity of a man's crimes justify a lynch-mob?

Keep in mind here that we all know Osama bin Laden was guilty of terrible, terrible crimes against Americans. We all know he was fomenting even more plots to carry out even more crimes against Americans. No one disputes this... And if he was engaged in a firefight with the SEAL team that raided his estate, I see no ethical problem in the SEALs shooting him dead where he stood.

But to kill a man who was not fighting back, and who was not armed... that is a different matter entirely.

Now... One way or another, Osama's killing was illegal. I don't see how anyone, particularly the Vice President of the United States of all people, could be confused by that. There is no legal justification for a group of men entering a foreign country, breaking into someone's compound and killing him. Sometimes, of course, breaking the law is the right thing to do.

This seems like one of those times.

But what is far more questionable, to me at least, is whether or not the ethics of killing him can actually be justified. The more I think about it, and the more I listen to the reactions of people in the United States, in Pakistan, in the rest of the Middle East... The more I believe that that justification simply isn't there.

And it concerns me. We know that the US government no longer feels compelled to draft articles of war, and after Libya, it's clear that the President doesn't even feel a duty to so much as get permission from congress to get the US into still more undeclared wars. We also know that by ignoring the Bill of Rights, and the principles that fundamentally set the US apart from other countries, virtually any government action - no matter how violent, perverse and draconian - can be legally justified. We've seen time and time again that these violations will only get more and more severe.

So as our foreign policy becomes even more antagonistic, our domestic policy is too... and we're apparently at a stage in our nation's development where the Vice President thinks any concern about these things is just a big joke.

Well, Mr. Biden... I'm not laughing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Inside an All-Too-"Common" Controversy

Ok, I kinda lamed myself out with the awful pun for a blog-title, but here's the deal: I just got a front-row seat to something I think more people should know about and  By now, you've assuredly heard that "The White House" invited rapper and auto-tune master, Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. "Common" to some kind of stupid "poetry-slam".

Now... Aside from the fact that poetry "slams" are idiotic, and should be left to grungy basement college bars, the big controversy here is that Common has previously rapped about such engrossing topics as killing President Bush and whipping out an "uzi" and presumably attempting suicide-by-cop.

As you may have been told by basically every website & news network in the freaking country at this point, that stuff is bad, and has "outraged" conservatives and police officers and he shouldn't be allowed to visit the White House.

But what you probably don't know is how this all actually started... you totally should, though.

Cause it's funny, and because it's the best example I've ever seen of how the media fabricates its own material and its own news. It all started literally 10 feet away from my office at the Daily Caller, so I saw 100% of this unfold first-hand!

A few days ago, our White House correspondent, Neil Munro, had an idea for a story. The story was: Common was invited to attend a White House event, but Common has written and performed rap songs about unsavory topics which some people might not think appropriate for a White House guest. All, in my view, pretty fair points... Although, I personally like anything that removes the deification of the presidency and reminds people that the POTUS isn't anybody special at all.

So Neil wrote the story... And honestly, it's pretty much pure news. Check it out. As far as it goes, the story itself is simple and contains a series of indisputable facts:
  1. Michelle Obama invited Common to a poetry event. 
  2. Laura Bush had a poetry event cancelled after criticism a few years ago. 
  3. Common has rapped about killing police and former presidents.
  4. Here's a bunch of Common's lyrics transcribed from different performances.
Nothing really debatable in any of it. It's a silly issue, but it was unquestionably solid journalism. Neil didn't even editorialize in that first article at all. Sure, it's a jab at the White House... Neil is the White House press room guy for the Daily Caller and frankly, if more reporters were willing to take jabs at Obama's administration for real, we'd be a bit better off, so I say... Good for Neil!

By itself though, this story is not much more than a bit of humorous filler as far as i'm concerned.

But then something interesting happened. Neil's story got sucked into amachine of news & commentary fabrication... and I got emailed about virtually every step along the way.

The Daily Caller's communications director likes to send out emails letting the staff know about stories that get picked up by other news outlets, and Neil's little piece on Common utterly exploded over the next 24 hours. Here's a smattering of the subject headings of all the emails I received:
  • HuffPost on Neil's Piece
  • Chicago Tribune/LA Times - Conservatives decry White House invite to rapper Common
  • NBC Chicago - Palin Knocks White House Over Common's Invitation
  • The Atlantic Wire - The Latest White House Social Event Controversy: Common
  • NY Daily News - Sarah Palin, Fox, Daily Caller, rip Michelle Obama's invite to rapper Common for poetry event
  • Human Events - Michelle Obama's Poetry Slam
  • WLS 890 Chicago - First Lady blasted for White House invitation to Chicago rapper
  • Rolling Stone - Fox News Attacks Rapper Common Over White House Invite
  • E! Why Is Sarah Palin Suddenly Bashing Rapper-Actor Common
Seriously... This list just keeps going. And in each case, the article actually mentions the Daily Caller.

This is great for us of course, so... Yay! But, let's stop for a second and take note of what's actually happened here. In almost no time at all, an article merely explaining what was going on became a partisan media circus in a matter of hours.

It's like one massive game of telephone. Neil Munro said something was happening. Another reporter at another website took Neil's article and added "conservatives are upset about it!", Fox News decides that indeed conservatives are upset and broadcast it even louder, more websites & news organizations repeat it, Sarah Palin chimes in, the DC Police Department chimes in... Suddenly what was essentially a minimally important issue gets passed back and forth by news organizations and is now a national headline.

It just kind of blows my mind.

But I think we should all be a bit more aware of this process, shouldn't we? How many people out there in the United States realize that the vast majority of "news" and "issues" we get fed on a daily basis are pure fabrications of the media machine in Washington DC?

Did you? Are you surprised by any of this.

I'd always suspected and complained about some of this stuff, but being here in the middle of it, it astounds me how incredibly powerful the process actually is and how influential the whole machine is on the rest of the country, and on the world.

Reporters go into journalism so often because they want to "change the world", and well... They do. Not sure many of them understand the power they wield though.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Alternet is an Idiot.

Ok... Well... "Alternet" itself can't be an idiot, lacking an autonomous nervous system and all. But its main economic blogger, Joshua Holland can be... and is.

For all those other idiots out there incapable of distinguishing my assertion just there from an ad hominem fallacy (which is something I find is increasingly common), I'm not saying "Joshua Holland is an idiot, therefore his points are all wrong", I am saying "Joshua Holland is an idiot, now let me devote a blog post on explaining the supporting evidence for this thesis".

I'm not sure why I feel compelled to make that disclaimer, but I really am getting tired of explaining the difference between ad hominem fallacies and merely saying something that some people would define as "insulting".

Anyway... Enough of that. On to the point!

Mr. Holland has provided a fantastic example of his idiocy and made it available for anyone with a brain to read. The Alternet article is titled: "Thanks to Decades of Conservative Spin, Americans Are Hopelessly Confused About Taxes, Spending and the Deficit"

Off to a wonderfully unbiased start, you only have to wait until the subtitle to start understanding where he's going to go horribly awry:
"Conservatives have spent 30 years divorcing the taxes we pay from the services they finance -- no wonder the public doesn't know where their tax dollars go."
This is already basically a strawman and most certainly becomes a red herring. I'd love it if Holland produced a single shred of evidence that supported his claim that conservatives have "divorced the taxes we pay from the services they finance", but he doesn't, and it's a nonsensical point anyway.

But I haven't even gotten into the text of the article. Holland begins his case with a pitiful argument from authority from the weakest authority on economics writing today... You know who I mean.
"A few weeks back, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, felt compelled to take time out of what is presumably a busy schedule to explain that “taxes are, first and foremost, about paying for what the government buys.” That he felt compelled to do so is a sad reflection of the state of our economic discourse."
Yep. It's Krugman.

He's right that it demonstrates a sad state of economics discourse in America, but not at all for the reasons he thinks... The fact that either Dr. Krugman or Joshua Holland believe that explaining to people that taxes "pay for what government guys" is a remotely compelling point is what's sad. Sad, and embarrassing for both of them.


Taxes, as I'm sure everybody who is over the age of 12 knows, exist for the purpose of funding government. Thanks for the lesson, Krugman. No one I have ever met is remotely confused on that point. No conservative I have met has deliberately obfuscated that point, or would even be capable of it if they wanted to be. It's so ridiculously obvious, that it makes almost no sense to even bring it up.

Krugman (and Holland) engages in misdirection, arguing that people don't understand that taxes are paying for "government services" in order to distract people from the fact that taxes are involuntary, and that the involuntary nature of government funding has certain incredibly important economic implications.

Holland goes back to blaming "conservatives", which I'm sure in this case would include me since it's basically anyone who isn't Paul Krugman:
"They've bent themselves into intellectual pretzels arguing that cutting taxes – on the wealthy – leads to more revenues in the coffers. They've invented narratives about taxes driving “producers” to sunnier climes, killing jobs by the bushel, and relentlessly spun the wholly false notion that we're facing “runaway spending” and are “taxed to death.”"
What evidence does he use to back up the implication that in fact high taxes don't push producers to flee to "sunnier climes"? Why... His own previous op-eds of course!

His first link borders on being a non sequitur. It takes you to an article written by Holland on how a study finds that Walmart raising wages would not have a significant impact on their productivity or require much in the way of price-increases to their consumers.

Now... Walmart, like all businesses, pays a rate for labor that affords them the greatest value for the money. This means... yes... they pay as low a wage as they can (and are allowed) and still get employees that meet their standards.

Holland goes on to regurgitate the idiotic (sensing a theme?) and completely false claim that raising the minimum wage has no effect on employment. It so happens that I have previously blogged about 50 years worth of compiled data on that topic in the past (as opposed to the single study Holland mentions produced by the blatantly "liberal" Economic Policy Institute) and guess what... There's an effect. It's also incredibly well known throughout the economics community.

The pretzel-twisted logic here is Holland's. His is a world of magical thinking where there's no negative side-effect to employment or incentive for business owners to modify their behavior from artificially raising labor costs.

It might be worth pointing out here that with the most recent minimum wage, we also now have the highest teenage unemployment rate in the history of the United States. Good economists understand the link. Economists who exist to support political interventions into the economy generally don't. Shocker.

Speaking of pretzel-logic, look how far off topic we are already!

An article that begins with a headline and a few statements about conservatives confusing people about taxes has already gotten us into a discussion of minimum wage and Walmart, and the magical thinking of people who believe that increased costs imposed on businesses have no effect on employment.

As for high tax rates driving producers to "sunnier climes", well... How about Holland asks California where its jobs are going, cause I'm pretty sure they're mostly going to Texas.

Ok, that's not quite accurate, jobs aren't necessarily all flocking out of California and going to Texas (although quite a few are). Really, what's happening is that Texas is ranked in the top 5 for "good business climate" by basically every organization out there ranking these kinds of things, and California is near the bottom of the list (often within the bottom 10 states). So what happens is that California just doesn't have the economic growth or growth in jobs that other places have and jobs grow in Texas, new businesses start in Texas at rates that should make California rather envious.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that so far, Holland has produced utter crap in support of his points.

By the way, speaking as a business owner, and knowing dozens of fellow entrepreneurs, I can speak first hand on the fact that incentives completely matter to me. I don't want to be punished for owning a business, and in California and in Connecticut, I most certainly felt that I was. If my business had been larger and grown, it would have only gotten worse.

Now... Holland proceeds from this point to talk about that ridiculously right-wing organization, Gallup. They released a poll a while back that unsurprisingly showed that people think government spends too much, but that they like everything government spends money on.

This, Holland asserts with no evidence at all, is because the "conservative message machine" has effectively mislead everyone. The assumption here is that what people really want is to have all the government services they like - although a lot of that simply has to do with poorly worded poll questions. For example, when on Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, Frank Luntz asked people on the street a series of questions that resulted in contradictory responses.

"Do we spend too much on aid to illegal immigrants?" Of course, people said yes.
"Would you deny the children of illegal immigrants health care?" People naturally like children and don't like the idea of sick kids, no matter who their parents are, so they said... No.

This shouldn't surprise anyone. The problem here is that there's no way to weight which programs people want to prioritize and which they would favor cutting, and by the way, generations of idiots like Holland have pushed a false dichotomy where if government isn't providing a service, then it won't be provided at all.

People think we spend too much, but have been convinced that without welfare spending, spending on health care, or on education, etc., people won't actually have access to health care or they'll be homeless. This isn't true, but it's really the "big lie" in Holland's (and especially in Krugman's) writing.

Another key point being ignored here is that a lot of people simply believe that the big problem is "waste", and that if we could only make government expenditures more efficient and less pork-filled, we would balance the budget. This is fundamentally a problem with people's understanding of economics and incentives. Of course, that's something Holland is not even remotely qualified to opine on, given his current track-record.

Holland concludes:
"Taken together, this shows how difficult it is for law-makers to arrive at good public policies. Their constituents wants their cake, they want to eat it, but they don't think they need to pay the tab for it. Politicos offer tax cuts to get themselves elected, but then face outraged constituents when they try to cut services. Small wonder that we've only managed to balance the budget in one brief period during the boom years of the 1990s.
We do face serious issues in this country. We need a serious debate about how best to solve them. But we're having that debate in a democracy populated by citizens who have little or no clue where their tax dollars go. And you can credit the anti-tax crusaders and their habitual mendacity for that sorry state of affairs."
Yep, blame anti-tax crusaders.

Let's go ahead and ignore the obvious here... We're broke! Holland starts with the bizarre presumption that just because people want "free" stuff, that America can simply provide it to them via taxation. Nobody likes to pay taxes, and yet everybody also wants free stuff. These are contradictory issues, and they are made so much worse by the fact that we're now at a point where virtually 50% of the country pay no taxes and the other 50% pays for their services, but yet everyone gets an equal vote.

The incentive for most people is to demand more and more government services and to not worry for a second about that evil "rich" guy who's on the hook for paying it. And guess what, that results in a situation where the Federal government spends at a rate of about 25% of GDP and only take in 19% of GDP.

It behooves people like Krugman and Holland to ignore that in the last 60 years, regardless of tax rates, we've averaged only about 18-19% of GDP in revenue - and that the reason for this is because tax rates do, in fact, change people's behavior.  It behooves people like Krugman and Holland to ignore that we've increased annual Federal spending by close to $2 Trillion in the past decade, while only increasing revenues by a fraction of that.

So... No Josh.

No one is "confused" that taxes pay for government services... In fact, more and more people actually understand that not only are taxes not even close to enough to covering the cost of government spending, they also are starting to recognize that government pays for a huge percentage of its activities through debt and uses inflation to pay for that debt.

What a misleading pile of crap you've written, Mr. Holland.

You've started with a thoroughly useless, rudimentary point that no one is confused about, and then made a series of idiotic assertions that you backed up with more of your own writings. You've ignored how incentives play a role in people's economic activities, including job creation & destruction. You've ignored that the Federal government spends far more than it ever has in the history of the United States and that the overall tax-burden actually including Federal, State, & local income taxes as well as the burden imposed by tariffs and consumption taxes of various kinds (like the roughly $0.50 per gallon average on gasoline) is among the highest seen in the US. It's no surprise that people always forget to include the other taxes and pretend that just because Federal income tax rates have gone down since the 50s, that all taxes combined are down.

You've also ignored the complexity and the waste in the tax-code, and the myriad and ever-expanding regulatory costs imposed on businesses, particularly in places like California, which make those places less and less attractive to job producers. You didn't even touch on the cost of the debt and the cost of wars.

You've blamed conservatives - by which, in this case, you're including basically anyone who thinks high taxes are a bad thing - but you've provided no real evidence for that assertion, and you've so clearly demonstrated that you don't have a clue what you're talking about that it's driven me to simply call you an idiot.

I could probably go on about this twisted mess all night, but I think we're good here.

Rant. Over.

I'm a "fringe Leftist" RINO. Apparently.

So..... It's officially started. Republicans are starting to hate me again.

It's cool, I've been through this before. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine. As the landscape of American politics flip-flops again, and I steadfastly stand my ground where I always have before, Republicans are starting to find out that I'm not really on their team.

And I'm completely shocked (shocked, I tell you!) to find out that most of them aren't really interested in liberty, or rational thought.

Gosh am I ever surprised by this.

I was a tiny bit surprised, however, to find out on Facebook last night that I'm a RINO, and that perhaps I'm also a "fringe Leftist" Obama sycophant. I sure am surprised. To be a RINO, wouldn't I first have to be a Republican "in Name"? Whoops.

There's one thing about American politics that drives me utterly insane, and I'm about to endure the 2011-2012 version of it right in the epicenter of the idiot-storm. I'm not entirely ready for that, but I do think it will remain an interesting experience.


When George W. Bush invaded Iraq & Afghanistan, the "left" came out in droves to protest unilateral military action. Simultaneously, much of the "right" claimed that Bush's actions were heroic, regardless of their constitutional merit.

Then, like manna from heaven, January 20th, 2009 dawns and Barack Obama is crowned King of America inaugurated as US President and by god, we were going to get renewed "hope" and oh-so-much "change". Barack was not a unilateral war-monger like Bush! He wasn't going to bankrupt our country and disrupt our national security with costly, reckless warfare. Oh no. He was the savior!

Cut to 2011.

Where have all the Democrat anti-war protesters gone? Why, now they're out defending Obama's (way more unconstitutional) decision to expand our involvement in Afghanistan - which has only gotten more violent and dangerous in the last 2 years, by the way - and positively celebrating Obama's choice to commit tens of billions of dollars worth of US military resources into Libya, without so much as even talking with Congress about it or, for the first several days, really even making a public statement.

Of course, Republicans, still trying to justify their opposition to Obama, continue to criticize his foreign policy decisions as being anything from confusing to unconstitutional.

Can't exactly argue with them there, but it's pretty funny to hear the critiques coming from a lot of them (most of the new guys get a pass, though).

It goes on like this on issue after issue... Democrats who were utterly horrified by Bush's illegal and frankly, Orwellian, spying on American citizens have absolutely nothing to say about President Obama who has managed to continue every one of Bush's programs and add to them with the prosecution (and inhumane mistreatment but totally "legal" according to the administration) of alleged Wikileaks whistleblower, Bradley Manning, and the attempted assassination of American citizens abroad without even the pretense of Constitutionally protected Due Process.

Oh, and by the way... The latest drone strike intended to kill American-Yemeni citizen/Al Qaeda "suspect", Anwar Awlaqi, missed... don't worry though, there's no way any civilians were killed. Our bombs are "smart".

Republicans who lauded Bush's "cowboy diplomacy" mock and criticize Obama for... Umm... Exacerbating Bush-era "defense" policies! No irony detected. Democrats also seem to see no irony in Barack Obama walking away with a Nobel Peace Prize.


Up until the recent killing of Osama bin Laden (which many Republicans & Democrats have come together to wildly celebrate), many Republicans were still firmly disputing Obama's foreign policy as anything like their own, in spite of the completely obvious fact to people who play for either team that Obama's foreign policy was (like his economic policy), Bush on steroids.


And while we're at it... Let's talk about economic policy, shall we?

Finally there is a tiny contingent of Republicans, many associated with the Tea Party movement around the US, who are starting to grasp that endless deficits and increasing national debt is not healthy for America. Of course, the strongest of these voices, like Congressman Paul Ryan, offer "solutions" which barely scratch the surface. Ryan's plan to "balance the budget" astoundingly still manages to recommend  increasing government spending substantially over the next decade, just at a slower rate than anybody else's ridiculous plans.

Of course, they spend tons of time criticizing Obama for bad economic policy (as they should), but few among their ranks understand anything beyond "cut taxes!".

Now that Republican primary debates have started up again, I've once again been forced to turn my ever-critical eye on standard Republican nonsense... most of which is, I'm sorry to inform everyone, not all that much different than the standard Democrat nonsense.

Even the minor differences in rhetoric cannot make up for the absurd similarities in substance.

So here I am... Briefly described as a scourge of liberals... A "right winger", a Fox News-watching, Rush Limbaugh-listening "dittohead", spouting Republican lies about the economy and about whatever else I was supposed to have been doing. But now that a few of the people who excitedly added me on Facebook when I blasted Obama's policies are starting to realize I'm not going to be supporting their favorite neo-con in 2012, I have suddenly been labeled an "America-hating", MSNBC-watching, fringe Leftist, socialist, commie Democrat and clear supporter of Obama... Like a chump.

Part of me thinks it's pretty hilarious to be incorrectly stuffed into a box by some idiot who fails to understand that political philosophy extends beyond Team Red and Team Blue, and then get ejected from that box by the same person a few months later as if I'm supposed to think it's a bad thing... But then... Mostly...


Celebrating Death

Good riddance, bastard.
There are a ton of blogs I want to write right now, and if I actually had the time, I would definitely do all of them. Unfortunately, my time is pretty limited anymore, so I have to reserve my thoughts to only a few points. The first that comes up for me is the disgusting partisanship and the rhetoric that has cropped up in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death.

In a matter of hours, primarily on Twitter, I saw the reactions of many Americans around the country to the news and what seems like only moments later, The Daily Caller is buzzing with reporters emailing each other and heading down to the White House to see the public response.

I ultimately opted not to go, in part because it would have taken me at least an hour and a half to get there from my apartment and collect my gear at the office, and in part because within 10 to 15 minutes, my friends Dan Hayes & Clay Broga of Freethink Media announced that they were already en route. I knew they would get some great footage, and put it together in an excellent way... and true to form, they did:

A lot of this is hopeful and patriotic, and not nearly as bad as the first video I saw come out of the White House "celebration", but in either case... I have a big problem with the whole thing.

Death isn't something to celebrate, the violent murder - and let's be honest, that's what the Osama bin Laden killing really was - of an evil man is still a violent murder. Being privately, quietly glad that some amount of evil has been eradicated from the world seems appropriate. But cheering wildly in the streets?

No. I don't think so.

If you actually stop and consider this point from the point of view of two radically different cultures, without morally equating the two, Muslim fundamentalists and extremists cheering the death of American soldiers is hardly any different in principle than US citizens cheering the death of Bin Laden.

I know... I know. Everybody I've talked to about this keeps reminding me that Bin Laden is credited with killing 3,000 innocent residents of Manhattan. Absolutely true, and for that, the man unquestionably needed to be brought to justice. But Muslim extremists cheer the death of US soldiers for nearly identical reasons within their own perception, do they not?

America is so often seen as a worldwide bully and our bombs have indiscriminately killed tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians over the last 10 years and who knows how many over the past 50 years! Not just in Iraq & Afghanistan, either... Drone strikes have escalated under Obama substantially, and we've seen the deaths of countless people at American hands in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other sovereign nations as well.

So when they cheer for American deaths, they too are believing they are eradicating an enemy. To some extent, I cannot blame them.

Now... Again, let me be perfectly clear about this point.

I am NOT equivocating cultures, here. American culture is by almost every conceivable level superior to the anachronistic Muslim Theocracies in the Middle East. We do not as a matter of policy & law, enslave our women, brutally kill victims of rape or other sexual assaults, we do not enforce a state religion and we don't have an Imam or any tribal, religious dictator. We are unquestionably better than all of that.

For all our faults, we do none of that.

And that's something we should all be incredibly proud of in the United States and in the "Western", "developed" world in general. It's these major philosophical differences that we all take for granted and which, I must say, we (and I include Europe in this) are so easily letting slip away.

But the celebrations sickened me, and I think they should have sickened everyone. We should be better.

We've undergone yet another defining national moment, and we reacted with what I mostly see as bloodlust. This didn't make me happy at all. However, I was actually glad to see that Code Pink - who I have literally nothing else in common with, besides a distaste for state violence - came out to the White House on Monday afternoon to protest our continued military presence in the Middle East.

I took a camera and a reporter with me. Check that out here:

The funny thing is, if you watched the video, David & Liz are our main players and I agree with both of them. Code Pink women almost never have a clue about what they're really talking about, but I'm glad that they're relatively consistent. And I'm especially glad I got an opportunity to ask Liz to talk about what happened to all of their Democrat friends who would have turned up in the thousands and millions if Bush were still in office.

Dave was right too, though.

The soldiers in Afghanistan and everywhere else around the world are there because of "pre-instated structures". Talking about "the troops" as if they have much of any say in what their missions are is silly. The troops aren't the problem here. Fat & comfortable politicians with no skin in the game are.

As far as I can tell, the purpose of these wars and of our military operations world-wide is barely even understood at this point.

Of course... Osama bin Laden's death and the American response to it is understandable in many ways. There's revenge and catharsis, and of course the desire to obtain some closure from 9/11. All of that I get. What I don't get is how so many on the left and the right believe that taking to the streets and having a party about a man's death is righteous.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a few things on Monday that are worth repeating:
"It's already a Litmus Test event: all Decent People -- by definition -- express unadulterated ecstacy at his death, and all Good Americans chant "USA! USA!" in a celebration of this proof of our national greatness and Goodness (and that of our President). Nothing that deviates from that emotional script will be heard, other than by those on the lookout for heretics to hold up and punish."
I have been that heretic... of course, I usually am, so I was prepared for the responses I've received.

Greenwald also noted something I've been saying more and more strongly as the week has progressed and a more complete narrative has emerged from the Obama administration's varied and contradictory stories...
"I'd have strongly preferred that Osama bin Laden be captured rather than killed so that he could be tried for his crimes and punished in accordance with due process (and to obtain presumably ample intelligence). But if he in fact used force to resist capture, then the U.S. military was entitled to use force against him, the way American police routinely do against suspects who use violence to resist capture. But those are legalities and they will be ignored even more so than usual. The 9/11 attack was a heinous and wanton slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians, and it's understandable that people are reacting with glee over the death of the person responsible for it. I personally don't derive joy or an impulse to chant boastfully at the news that someone just got two bullets put in their skull -- no matter who that someone is -- but that reaction is inevitable: it's the classic case of raucously cheering in a movie theater when the dastardly villain finally gets his due.

But beyond the emotional fulfillment that comes from vengeance and retributive justice, there are two points worth considering. The first is the question of what, if anything, is going to change as a result of the two bullets in Osama bin Laden's head? Are we going to fight fewer wars or end the ones we've started? Are we going to see a restoration of some of the civil liberties which have been eroded at the altar of this scary Villain Mastermind? Is the War on Terror over? Are we Safer now?"
I can't help but thinking... No. We can't be.

The war on terror may be farther from over today than it ever has been, and Osama bin Laden's death might very well foment some serious blowback. In fact, it already has. The Taliban have redoubled their efforts in Afghanistan, and one of the more disturbing things I discovered today was that a "pro-bin Laden" event was staged by his supporters in London!

From the UK Express article about that event:
"It was organised by controversial preacher Anjem Choudary, who told reporters after the 'service' that America had created a new generation of Islamic terrorists.

Muslim women demonstrators pray outside of the US embassy in London today
He said: "There will be one million Osamas. Muslims will remember Osama as a great man who stood up against Satan. Many will want to emulate his acts.

"In Britain we have other options - like political action, but in other countries if your land is attacked or your family are put at risk you must defend yourself.

"We believe in the covenant of security that we must attack those we live with, but many do not."

The group began their march from the Regents Park Mosque where they tried to recruit some of the thousands who prayed there."
Surely this must concern all of us, not just because of the message Choudary is promoting, but that it is in the United Kingdom... These aren't the backwards sentiments of an uneducated, riled-up people confined to the mountains of North-eastern Afghanistan. Choudary might as well be right here in America.

At the risk of being even more "heretical", it's hard not to understand why this is the inevitable reaction to Osama bin Laden's killing outside the US. We know now that Osama and his men were almost entirely unarmed when the Navy SEAL team entered their compound in Pakistan.

Consider the implications here.

A United States military special forces unit entered a sovereign country with which, to this point, we were not "at war" (although that's pretty debatable given the number of USAF drones that have dropped bombs on that country in the last few years), it proceeded to kill a large group of unarmed men and even a few women, extract a few of the bodies and exit.

While this is unquestionably an illegal act by our Constitution, a pretty strong case can be made that it is an immoral act as well. It's also, practically speaking, a poor way to mete out "justice" and terrible PR for the United States - which is incredibly likely to generate even more dangers for our country in the years to come.

I'm not really one to be overly concerned with legality (which, after all, is so infrequently a true representation of justice), so I'm not so concerned about the violation of Pakistan's borders...

We had a right to bring Osama bin Laden to (legitimate) justice. Of course we did. Every individual, and of course every nation as a result, has the right to self-defense and to obtain retribution for acts of injustice and 9/11 was most certainly that. If in the service of bringing a known murderer and instigator of so much American suffering to answer for his crimes, we need to cross some arbitrarily drawn political lines, well... Fine. We will have to deal with the diplomatic mess created by such actions, but it's pretty easy to defend them. Besides... As real freedom fighter around the world would know, some laws are worth breaking.

However... Shooting and killing an unarmed man?

Not ok.

Morally, it should be obvious why killing unarmed men is wrong. But practically, I see no way not to construe those actions as a spectacular mistake.

We could have captured Bin Laden and his men. We could have tried him in front of the whole world for crimes against the United States. We could have made him a spectacle and shown him to be a hypocrite that he surely would have become. Most of all, had we captured him, there is no question that we could have learned a vast amount about the nature of al Qaeda, and of decentralized terrorist networks in general.

Had we done this, we would have learned a ton, we would have shamed a man who deserved so much to be shamed in front of his followers, we would have brought legitimate justice to an evil man and demonstrated America to be a nation guided by principle and law... not by lynch mobs.

Instead... We shot an unarmed (but yes, evil!) man in the head and dumped his lifeless body over the side of an aircraft carrier. We opted for thoughtless violence and death and eschewed the opportunity to get true justice or learn directly from perhaps the most knowledgeable person on the planet about Islamic terrorism.

...and the people cheered.