Political and miscellaneous commentary by Orat.

Friday, October 07, 2011

In Praise of Hypocrisy

I have a confession to make. I was naive. I believed that our Republic would be better preserved under the administration of Barack Obama than under John McCain. Mind you, I didn’t think it would be preserved because Obama would be a better President or had a better understanding of the Constitution. Rather, I believed we would be safer from tyranny because Republicans would fight Obama’s policies in areas where they might have acquiesced to McCain, owing to party loyalty. In short, my hopes were that Republicans would be hypocrites.

Why did I think that? Let me provide some examples. During the reign of Bush The Elder, Republicans were pro-war, pro-UN intervention, as they rallied behind Bush to enforce UN resolutions against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait. Shortly after the conclusion of this conflict, Bill Clinton was elected President. Bill Clinton, in a manner not at all unlike his predecessor, proceeded to commit US troops to more conflicts where they would be charged with enforcing UN resolutions. This was fiercely opposed by the same Republicans who had supported it just a few years earlier under Bush. The difference, however, was that the Republicans succeeded, in large measure, in slowing down and inhibiting Clinton’s agenda, both abroad and at home.

Fast-forward a few more years to the reign of Bush the Younger. Republicans once again swung back in favor of war to enforce UN resolutions (again, against Iraq). Similarly, Bush was able to pass an incredibly expensive expansion of welfare state entitlements in the form of the Prescription Drug Medicare expansion. So again, Republicans failed to put the brakes on in areas where they had successfully forestalled the same or similar efforts by a Democrat President. It is apparent that this difference was due to partisanship. Republicans felt free to oppose Big Government when pushed for by a Democrat, but felt reluctant to do so when it was being advanced by someone of the same party.

Or at least, that was the theory...

In 2008, the race came down between one of the most “liberal” (not in the classical sense) Republicans in Washington and Barack Obama. My reasoning was that, like they had done during Clinton, Republicans would doggedly resist Obama’s agenda, if for no other reason than sheer partisanship. On the other hand, under McCain, many of the same agenda items might advance, but would receive no resistance from Republicans, and certainly not from Democrats who already want to see government expand in its size and scope.

My hope was that this would likewise translate to Republican feelings on foreign policy, just as it had in the transition from Bush 41 to Clinton. Yes, I eagerly hoped for Republican hypocrisy!

Things started out well enough. Republicans seemed to seethe at the very mention of Obama’s name. This was a good sign. Then, RNC Chairman Chris Steele made the comment that Afghanistan was “Obama’s war”. Even better! Then we began to see Obama repeating many of the same policies Bush had advanced, and then some! For example, Obama called for a “new legal regime” wherein people who had been imprisoned, but against whom there was not enough evidence to bring them to trial, could be left in prison to rot for the rest of their lives. I mean, if you don’t have evidence that someone is guilty, then common human decency dictates you let them go, right? So surely Republicans who already believe Obama to be a liar, a socialist, and perhaps the Antichrist himself, would be taken aback by the idea that one Barack Obama would assert the power to imprison people indefinitely without so much as evidence that they were guilty!

Republicans were silent. Indeed, most of the public ire raised came from the “Left”.

Later, Obama held a Press Conference announcing that he had killed Osama bin Laden. The problem was, several of those in his own administration came out with conflicting stories about what had happened and how it all went down. On top of that, we were then told that we could not be shown any photos which would prove bin Laden’s death, and that, incredibly, the body of the world’s most-wanted villain had been unceremoniously dumped overboard in the ocean. Not only did this open the door for a sort of “Osama bin Elvis” phenomenon, it conveniently ensured that nobody could ever verify that he was, in fact, dead, and so we would all have to take Barack Obama’s word for it.

Despite the Republican view of Obama as the Father of Lies, Republicans drank it up, conflicting stories and all.

Obama then decides to send forces into Libya to help topple Qaddafi. Okay, almost nobody saw this one coming. Fortunately, there was some tepid resistance from Republicans, but it never really built a head of steam. To this day, Obama continues our military operations in Libya without any approval of Congress, and with little to no protest from Republicans.

Somewhere along this timeline the Obama administration announced that it had drawn up a “kill list” of people marked for assassination, and that on that list were the names of two or three American citizens. Yes, for the first time in our nation’s history, a President had admitted publicly to having a list drawn up of Americans to be assassinated without any kind of trial or due process. Again, there was hardly a response from Republicans, if any. A few months later, it was announced that the CIA had killed American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen using a guided missile fired from a UAV. al-Awlaki was not in a battlefield, nor was he even in a hostile country. As far as we know he was not armed, but was simply killed.

In addition to al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, an American citizen who grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and was editor of Insight magazine, was also killed in the same drone strike, and was blithely listed as “collateral damage”. Khan was, even by the Obama administration’s own account, merely “a loudmouth” but had never undertaken any actual terrorist activities.

Incredibly, Obama’s unprecedented act of summarily assassinating unarmed American citizens, away from any sort of battlefield or combat situation, not only went unopposed by most Republicans, it was praised!

Yet somehow amidst all of this, many Republicans still tell us Obama is a Muslim sympathizer who does nothing but apologize to our enemies and appease the terrorists. For all their disparaging talk, however, it seems Republicans must hold Obama in such high esteem as to entrust him with powers never before claimed by an American President. The idea of Obama forming secret committees to “nominate” (yes, that’s the official term) Americans for assassination without any legal process whatsoever doesn’t scare these people in the slightest. If such absolute unchecked power in the hands of Obama doesn’t scare them, I ask you, what could possibly scare them?

I admit it, I was naively hoping for some Republican hypocrisy. I’d certainly have preferred they be consistent with their past opposition to Big Government, including Big Government foreign policy. But sadly, Republicans are no longer the hypocrites they once were...*

* It is still correct to say that Republicans, like those described in this piece, are hypocrites insofar as they espouse small government, the Constitution, and the rule of law, while simultaneously advocating the biggest of all government endeavors: imperial war and flagrantly disregarding the Constitution and the rule of law. But this isn’t the sort of hypocrisy I was hoping for in 2008.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The sorry state of the vanguards of Objectivism

After life and work had kept me away for a few years from reading Objectivist-authored material in any quantity, I finally returned to a site I used to frequent which syndicated articles by Objectivist writers, among others. I won't name the site for fear of adding to its readership. But upon pulling up the front page, I saw an article discussing whether or not the government should deprive a group of people of their rights to property by forbidding them to build a mosque in NYC. The article argued in favor of government action, and linked to this podcast by Ayn Rand's official heir and present guardian of Objectivism, Leonard Peikoff.

Therein, Mr. Peikoff lays out a hypothetical situation regarding property rights:

In any situation where metaphysical survival is at stake all property rights are out. You have no obligation to respect property rights. The obvious, classic example of this is, which I've been asked a hundred times, you swim to a desert island – you know, you had a shipwreck – and when you get to the shore, the guy comes to you and says, ‘I've got a fence all around this island. I found it. It's legitimately mine. You can't step onto the beach.' Now, in that situation you are in a literal position of being metaphysically helpless. Since life is the standard of rights, if you no longer can survive this way, rights are out. And it becomes dog-eat-dog or force-against-force.
I was quite shocked to hear the heir of Ayn Rand say this. I find it rather incredible and contradictory seeing as how this is precisely the moral justification for government-provided health care. I don't know of a single Objectivist who would approve of a government program that provided "necessary" life-saving treatment to those who could otherwise not afford it, at the public expense. Yet with such a statement as Peikoff's above, the necessary moral foundation for just such a program is laid. When someone's need is vital, according to Peikoff, your "rights are out". In other words, the needs of one individual can trump the rights of another.

I never thought I would hear an Objectivist say that. But here we have it.

Moving on to the main topic - the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" (the Cordoba House, which actually isn't a mosque, but that's another matter) - Peikoff proceeded to call for the US Government to deprive the owners of the Cordoba House of their rights to property. Peikoff insists that the government must prevent adherents of Islam from building mosques in NYC (and presumably elsewhere) on the grounds that failing to abridge their property rights would be a "sign of our weakness" to the outside world.

Peikoff attempts to shore up his argument with another analogy:
Now, let me give you an analogy if it’s not self-evident. Japanese strike pearl Harbor. We declare war. Japan, the Japanese, are then given a large spread of land in Pearl Harbor to build a temple celebrating — I don’t care what. The Japanese superiority or Shinto peacefulness or — I don’t care what. Now, if you can even conceive of that as justified because of ‘property rights,’ then I say you haven’t a clue what property rights, or individualism, or Objectivism is saying. Because what permitting that amounts to is ‘Roll over. Kick me. Kill me. I have nothing to say.
Now first, the owners of Cordoba House were not "given" the land or building in question, they purchased it. Nor are the owners of Cordoba House in any way (as far as I can tell) affiliated with any state or organization with whom we are at (undeclared) war. But neither of these aren Peikoff's point - his point here (when taken in context of the rest of his comments in the podcast) is that the thing which negates the owner's property rights is what they are saying with his property. This is presumably because allowing someone to say something which, by the government allowing it to be said, would be seen as, "an objective sign of our weakness," and thereby allegedly embolden the enemy. This raises the legitimate question: if one's rights of property are negated because the use thereof for speech is a "sign of our weakness", then does this not imperil the very right of speech? If applied consistently, Peikoff's principle would likewise prohibit individuals from expressing such opinions regardless of means.

Interestingly, Peikoff admits in the course of the podcast that there are some innocent Muslims, but goes on to say that, "even if there were innocent Muslims involved in this mosque, the alternative we have is their right to property versus our right to survive as the only property defender left in the West." Setting aside the absurd suggestion that the property rights of innocent Muslims present a clear and present threat to our survival, he is simply presenting a hyperbolic dichotomy to obscure the fact that he is calling for the abridgment of the rights of an entire group of people without regard to their individual innocence or guilt. That's collectivism, folks! Collectivism from a supposed champion of individualism.

Mr. Peikoff is apparently aware of the collectivist hue of his assertions because toward the end of the podcast he attempts to deny it by saying, "Here we have to go by probability which is not collective judgment". He then clarifies this "probability" comment by cursorily referencing the argument that NYC cab drivers are not being racist (and thereby not being collectivist) when they decide not to accept fares to Harlem on the grounds that there is a statistically higher probability that they will fall victim to a crime there. There are only two problems with this: first, it is unclear how it relates to the situation under consideration, and second, the cab drivers are making a non-aggressive choice for themselves. By contrast, the government in this situation would be committing aggression against an entire group of unconvicted (or charged) individuals, many of whom are doubtless innocent, and depriving them of their rights, all because, according to Peikoff, there is a high probability that any given individual within their ideological group is guilty. That sounds collectivism in statistical garb to me.

To be clear, Peikoff never once suggests that the owners or operators of Cordoba House are guilty of terrorism, but merely that they deny that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Yes, Peikoff is suggesting that these people's right to property is lost because they, in his opinion, lack an ideology that is sufficiently hostile to Islamic terrorism.

Bear in mind, this is the same Peikoff who in another podcast claimed that, "any ideology is outside the province of the state. If you say the State defines which ideologies are permissible and which ones are criminal, that is the end of free thought. ... abstractions, true or false, whatever you think their implications are, are outside the province of government."

You are caught in a contradiction, Mr. Peikoff. Check your premises.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Sarah Palin info dump

Similar to the Huckabee info dump, this will be a repository that will be updated from time to time with information on Sarah Palin's views and policies which are at odds with her "conservative" image.


There is much information to indicate Sarah Palin lobbied (at least for a time) in favor of parts of the Obama stimulus which benefitted Alaska:


Palin supports "shoring up" Wallstreet when asked about the Bailout (and expresses support for the bailout in particular):


Palin supported windfall profits tax on Alaskan oil companies:

(Note the statements in the last link that clearly reveal her view that Alaska's natural resources are, and ought to be, collectivized - much as in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.)


Needs more verification, but the link below would appear to cast some doubt as to Palin's perceived pro-life credentials - one of the centerpieces of her popularity among Republicans:

Mike Huckabee info dump

This post is not a traditional blog post, but rather an information dump I will periodically update with various resources demonstrating the counterfeit nature of Mike Huckabee's "conservative" credentials. Almost all of the resources are first-hand statements from Huckabee himself.


Government programs to subsidize "approved" healthy behavior:


Support for S-CHIP:


National smoking ban:


"PEPFAR" aid to Africa is not enough!:


Appears to want some kind of control on CEO pay (what kind? he doesn't say):


Defends choice of President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, as chief Foreign Policy adviser (though the audio is muffled, it sounds as though Huckabee briefly mentions Haass' position on US sovereignty [see note below link]):

NOTE: On Feb. 21, 2006, Haass, writing for the Taipei Times in an article titled "State Sovereignty Must be Altered in Globalized Era", made the following statements:

"For 350 years, sovereignty--the notion that states are the central actors on the world stage and that governments are essentially free to do what they want within their own territory but not within the territory of other states--has provided the organizing principle of international relations. The time has come to rethink this notion."
"Moreover, states must be prepared to cede some sovereignty to world bodies if the international system is to function."

"...sovereignty must be redefined if states are to cope with globalization."

"Globalization thus implies that sovereignty is not only becoming weaker in reality, but that it needs to become weaker. States would be wise to weaken sovereignty in order to protect themselves . . . Sovereignty is no longer a sanctuary."

"Our notion of sovereignty must therefore be conditional, even contractual, rather than absolute."

"The goal should be to redefine sovereignty for the era of globalization, to find a balance between a world of fully sovereign states and an international system of either world government or anarchy."
Such statements as the above are completely consistent with the agenda and philosophy which has prevailed in the CFR since its founding. A brief study of the history of the CFR reveals a wealth of such quotes from both its members and its leadership.


(3rd-party source) Raised taxes overall (0:48) and fought against proof of citizenship for tax-payer funded state services (1:20):


Supports One.org (campaign to lobby the US government to increase federal spending on foreign aid):


Huckabee believes in human-caused Global Warming and supports:
  • Increased federal fuel efficiency mandates (1:50)
  • Cap & Trade (2:07)


Cap & Trade:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgSjQW2rN8I (1:35 - "I'm still very open to that [a national cap on carbon]")


Cap & Trade and CAFE standards (starts talking like he doesn't want the government to cap carbon, but then when asked directly at 1:24, he affirms he is open to government caps):


Cap & Trade:
"As part of our overall effort, I also support a cap and trade system, which has worked well for reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions. However, I do not agree with those who want all allowances to be auctioned off because I believe that will create too great a burden on businesses. The alternative to cap and trade is a carbon tax, which I don’t support."

(NOTE: No so-called "voluntary" system could possibly result in a "burden on businesses", and if it was truly voluntary, by what federal authority would he disallow auctioning off voluntary, self-imposed allowance quotas? Furthermore, though he says he opposes it here, he refers to a tax as an alternative. All of this taken together reveals quite clearly that he is referring to mandatory, government-imposed cap & trade.)


A note on Huckabee's mythical "voluntary" cap & trade:

"Voluntary" cap and trade is an oxymoron for the following reason: Cap & Trade is about limits on the amount of CO2 emissions a business is allowed to produce. Each business has a quota - an allowance - and if they manage to fall short of that allowance, they can sell their remaining allowance to businesses that need to exceed their allowance but would otherwise incur a fine. Now if a business needs to exceed some ridiculously, voluntarily self-imposed CO2 quota, what sense does it make for them to purchase excess CO2 emissions "allowance" from another business that has also voluntarily self-imposed a quota? Wouldn't a self-imposed quota that overestimates a business' required emissions simply reveal a miscalculation on their part, calling for a smaller quota next year? It certainly wouldn't indicate that there is some mass of "unused" carbon emissions out there, waiting to be traded.

Following such an absurd "plan", what is there to stop me, Mr. Average Joe, from simply "selling" such CO2 credits that I "voluntarily" invent out of thin air to other businesses, and what sense would it make for any business to actually purchase them? Who would determine what my "allowance" was if it was voluntary? If my business is writing novels, what is to stop me from allocating to myself enough "credits" to support a power plant, and then just sell the "excess" to other companies? There is absolutely no way for any such self-awarded "excess credits" to have any value or any meaning to a company that wants to exceed its own irrationally self-imposed "carbon cap".

Either Huckabee supports such mind-numbingly stupid business behavior that wouldn't make any difference at all and that nobody would actually be stupid enough to follow, or he is simply doing a typical political two-step and backing away from his original support for Cap & Trade. Cap & Trade only has any meaning if the government sets the mandatory caps, and therefore creates an artificial market for tradeable, government-issued carbon credits, without which you would face a fine or worse.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Slaying monsters in the name of "Freedom"

A friend recently sent me a link to this homemade McCain ad. I will give its creators credit for putting it together well, and I will further credit the veteran pictured in the ad for his willingness to follow his convictions to the point of risking life and limb. I must, however, state that his convictions have been misguided and his trust in McCain misplaced.

I continually hear supporters of the war in Iraq assert that we are fighting for freedom. As sour a pill as it may be to swallow, and as unpopular and even painful as it may be for me to point out, just as the veteran did in the ad, I must act on my convictions and point out that we are doing nothing of the sort.

My reasons for saying this are various, and I will attempt to list a few of them here.

1. While we have established a democratic system in Iraq, Democracy is not the same as freedom. See some of my other blog posts for an explanation as to why this is. Otherwise, suffice it to say that democracy only says who makes decisions, but it does not stipulate the character of the decisions made. Decisions made by a million tyrants are no less tyrannical and oppressive than those made by a solitary despot.

2. Freedom cannot be imposed. It should go without saying, but imposing freedom is a contradiction in terms.

In the above two points, I am obviously referring to the idea that we are supposedly fighting for freedom for the Iraqis. However, also implicit in the video linked above is the notion that we are somehow fighting for our freedom as well. This is also not the case, and indeed the opposite is true. As John Quincy Adams predicted, if we attempt to champion the liberty of others abroad, we will inevitably undermine our own liberty at home:

And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?

Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.

She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.

She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....

She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace.
This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.
-John Quincy Adams, 1821 (emphasis added)

The attentive reader will note that each prediction has come to pass. We are now involved abroad beyond extrication and it has indeed usurped the standard of freedom. The maxims of our policy have certainly shifted from liberty to force. We have indeed become the "dictatress of the world" (commonly referred to as the sole "Superpower"). And owing to our deep entanglement through foreign alliances, the United Nations, and other treaties and agreements, we have ceased to be the ruler of our own spirit.

And while we are allegedly bringing freedom to the Iraqis in contrast to our Constition and our founding principles, we are giving up our freedom here. What freedoms, I dare ask, have we secured to ourselves in the prosecution of this war?

Freedom of speech? I dare say not, for our every conversation can now be recorded and monitored under the color of law, not to mention the raiding of homes and "preemptive arrests" as of the likes we witnessed in Minneapolis BEFORE the Republican National Convention had convened.

Freedom of assembly? Surely not as the PATRIOT Act and other such laws are now used to charge with crimes those who might assemble for a redress of grievances.

Economic freedom? Since entering Iraq, our currency has been increasingly debased, talks of "windfall profit taxes" are on the lips of even Republicans, oil is now more expensive than ever, Sarbanes-Oxley imposes crushing accounting regulations on business, and every business which can be contrived to be a financial institution is now subject to secret, warrantless siezure of records for the sake of "national security".

The right of habeus corpus? Certainly not! This war and the fear that has been cultivated around it has lead to the passage of the Military Commissions Act which effectively suspends your right to a trial, meaning that you can now be imprisoned indefinitely without trial and without legal recourse. It is sufficient to simply be designated as a "terrorist" to have your rights stripped away along with any possibility of defending your innocence.

Yes, in view of things, I think rather than having successfully fought for freedom, I can find only examples of it being ceded away bit by bit to a National Security state. If history teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that war is the health of the state (goverment) and that it is always attended by a curtailment of liberty.

What is harder to swallow still is the notion that John McCain would be the champion of our liberties. After what I witnessed first-hand in St. Paul, I can tell you conclusively that McCain is no friend of freedom, and the thought of his presidency genuinely frightens me for the future of our Republic.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Club for Growth (of government)

The Club For Growth just recently released its whitepaper on Ron Paul. But it appears that the CfG is, to put it nicely, shortsighted. Here's a quote that pretty much sums up their mistake:

"Unfortunately, his stubborn idealism often takes Ron Paul further away from achieving the limited-government, pro-growth philosophy he advocates. This is certainly the case with school choice, free trade, tort reform, and entitlement reform, in which he votes against vital free trade agreements, competitive school choice initiatives, and tort reform proposals."
What the CfG fails to understand is that even though measures which may seem to be a step in the right direction in the short-term are actually steps in the wrong direction when viewed long-range. Let's take their example of federally-funded school choice, for instance. While this may pragmatically appear to be a step toward more choice and more freedom for families to choose where to send their children, the reality is that it is at least as large a step backward by handing more power into the hands of the federal government. Consider the fact that federal funds always have strings attached to them, and that any recipient of federal funds will eventually have to comply with federal stipulations. Then what happens is that the path of least resistence is to simply comply with federal dictates rather that forego the federal subsidies or exemptions. A good example of this sort of tactic is 501(c)(3) status being used as a tool to gag speech in churches. The government offers a perk, the people fall for it, and thus the federal government acquires more control.

This is precisely how clever manipulators of the system coax us toward a more fascistic system with the illusory promise of "free markets". Were we to follow the CfG's advice, the federal government would slowly (or perhaps quite rapidly) expand its power both economically and politically. It is precisely the sort of principled stand taken by Ron Paul that guards against this trickery and lights the path to true free market solutions. The fact that the rest of Washington is not onboard is an indictment against Washington, not Ron Paul.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Madison and the General Welfare

I am constantly having to re-explain to various people I encounter that the general welfare clause in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is not carte blanch to the Congress. I then cite Madison's several statements to this effect. But this citation is usually very laborious both for me and for those whom I refer as I normally have to point to several different web pages, each with additional information that is non-essential to the Madison quote itself. So I have now consolidated the main Madison quotes on the subject here for easy reference.

Letter to James Robertson, April 20, 1831

With respect to the words, "general welfare," I have always regarded them as qualified by the details of power connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution... [that] was not contemplated by the creators.

Letter to Edmund Pendleton, January 21, 1792

If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.

House of Representatives, February 7, 1792

If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress... Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America.

The language held in various discussions of this house is a proof that the doctrine in question was never entertained by this body. Arguments, wherever the subject would permit, have constantly been drawn from the peculiar nature of this government, as limited to certain enumerated powers, instead of extending, like other governments, to all cases not particularly excepted.

The Federalist #41

Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases. A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms "to raise money for the general welfare."

But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? If the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded, as to give meaning to every part which will bear it, shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any signification whatsoever? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing, had not its origin with the latter.

The objection here is the more extraordinary, as it appears that the language used by the convention is a copy from the articles of Confederation. The objects of the Union among the States, as described in article third, are "their common defense, security of their liberties, and mutual and general welfare." The terms of article eighth are still more identical: "All charges of war and all other expenses that shall be incurred for the common defense or general welfare, and allowed by the United States in Congress, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury," etc. A similar language again occurs in article ninth. Construe either of these articles by the rules which would justify the construction put on the new Constitution, and they vest in the existing Congress a power to legislate in all cases whatsoever. But what would have been thought of that assembly, if, attaching themselves to these general expressions, and disregarding the specifications which ascertain and limit their import, they had exercised an unlimited power of providing for the common defense and general welfare? I appeal to the objectors themselves, whether they would in that case have employed the same reasoning in justification of Congress as they now make use of against the convention. How difficult it is for error to escape its own condemnation!

1792, in disapproval of Congress appropriating $15,000 to assist some French refugees

I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.

Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 6, 1788

[T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend it's jurisdiction.

Addendum: Here also is a relevant quote from Thomas Jefferson:

Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hannity's Humanitarianism

As most astute readers are by now aware, in the second Republican Presidential debate in South Carolina - hosted by Fox News - a certain Congressman Ron Paul of Texas made quite the splash by suggesting that US foreign policy ought to be one of non-interventionism.

During the post-debate coverage, one Sean Hannity had a spirited exchange with Congressman Paul over the morality of interventionist war:

Hannity: “Are you saying then that the world has no moral obligation in the first Gulf War, when an innocent country is being pillaged and people are being raped and murdered and slaughtered, or in the case of Saddam, he’s gassing his own people, are you suggesting we have no moral obligation? … You stand by and let that immorality happen? You support that? … You would stand by and do that, I would not. I think that’s immoral.”
Oh really? What most astute readers may or may not be aware of are Hannity’s previous statements regarding just such circumstances in the past. I’ll let Hannity speak for himself regarding Kosovo:
"Why should one U.S. airman give up his life when our national security is not in imminent danger?"
March 24, 1999

"Congressman Moran, a couple of things that are in my mind. Number one is the president has really failed to lay out before the American people the reasons why we need to be involved militarily. That's number one.

And then we go back to Henry Kissinger's test, which is number one, is there a vital U.S. national interest? And do we have a plan to disengage? What's the exit strategy? I don't see that we've met that test either. And why does it have to happen this second, this hour? Why don't we have a national debate first?"
March 24, 1999

"But you know what? There's a lot of massacres going on in the world. As you know, 37,000 Kurds in Turkey, over a million people in Sudan. We have hundreds of thousands in Rwanda and Burundi. I mean, where do we stop?"
March 24, 1999

"Slobodan Milosevic is a bad guy. He's an evil man. Horrible things are happening. I agree with that. Is Bill O'Reilly then saying we go to Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Sudan? Where does this stop? And when you look at sheer numbers, 2,000 -- and I'm not minimizing death. It's horrible. What this man is doing with ethnic cleansing is abhorrent, but sheer numbers -- 2,000 killed in the last year versus hundreds of thousands, millions in some cases in other parts of the world. Are you saying the United States should go to all those places?"
on "The O'Reilly Factor," April 5, 1999

But, gentle reader, lest you be mistaken, there is one key difference between the Iraq war and Kosovo that renders Hannity’s “nuanced” view valid. The difference? Kosovo was undertaken by a Democrat President, Iraq under a Republican.

But even that cannot let him off the hypocrisy hook, as his statements to Congressman Paul were not just specific to Iraq, but were broader blanket statements that it would be immoral for the US not to intervene and “fight for freedom wherever there’s trouble” (as GI Joe would put it).

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Root of Poverty and Wealth

Today I received a news alert by e-mail that mentioned a project to develop a laptop that costs only $100. I was immediately interested and clicked to view the article. Much to my dismay, however, I found that this was yet another example of a brilliant mind wasted in pursuit of misguided, utopian fantasies.

As I learned, Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has embarked upon a plan to develop a $100 laptop, not so that he can realize an entrepreneurial dream of profits and success or bring an affordable laptop to the mass-market, but ostensibly so he can do his bit to help so-called “developing nations.”

Operating under the name “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC), Negroponte plans to partner with repressive governments such as those of Communist China and Brazil to provide laptops to those countries’ students. I can only assume that he believes, like many people, that by placing high-tech computers into the hands of those in poorer nations, it will contribute toward an automatic lifting of that country out of poverty and into the modern industrial age.

Indeed, Mr. Negroponte is only one of a legion of hopelessly deluded do-gooders, such as those affiliated with the “Live 8” and ONE.org programs, all of whom mistakenly believe that if we could all just shovel enough money and resources to these dysfunctional nations, they’ll somehow magically come into the 20th Century (and perhaps the 21st someday afterward). Never mind the fact that nobody had to shovel any such resources to lift freer Western nations to their present heights.

The problem here is a fundamental misunderstanding of the root of poverty and wealth.

Poverty is a natural state. That is to say, nature does not furnish Man with the things necessary to his survival automatically. This state of natural poverty can only be overcome by the application of Man's mind – his primary and only means of survival. For Man's mind to work at its best requires freedom. This is why we don't see engineers in totalitarian countries (such as North Korea) coming up with brilliant designs for revolutionary laptops to start distributing to the rest of the world, but we do see them in (relatively) free countries.

Simply giving wealth over to impoverished countries will not help them in the least. Poverty and wealth are effects, not root causes. Thus the cause of poverty cannot simply be a lack of wealth. The root cause of these countries' poverty is their lack of freedom, and therefore no amount of aid or generosity will solve their fundamental problem. Until the issues of freedom and individual rights are addressed in these nations, all such benevolence will be throwing money down a black hole – or much worse.

If you doubt any of this, look at the decades and decades wherein huge sums of international aid that have been repeatedly heaped upon such countries. Observe that, for the most part, it has always been the same countries receiving such aid over the decades. This aid has accomplished nothing and only serves to further entrench the oppression there by sheltering such regimes from the natural consequences of their policies. By aiding and abetting these regimes in their endeavor to evade the inevitable reality of their policies, Mr. Negroponte and his ilk have become willing accomplices to the continued oppression.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Power of Principles

    We often hear people speak of “principles” but few ever define exactly what they mean and why they’re needed. With this blog, I will attempt to do just that.

Principles in Ethics
    In the same way matter is composed of atoms, every issue is composed of one or more abstract principles.

    Principles are comprehensive. They transcend individual issues, thus serving as a guide to action even in uncharted territory. Their transcendental nature means that all thoughts, actions, and beliefs are logically consistent, whereas without principles, separate individual positions on an assortment of issues with no guiding principles can easily come into conflict. Principles enable one to see to the core meaning of a given issue and discover its true deepest nature, rather than only seeing its surface, superficial implications.

Principles in Science
    In a less esoteric field, the value of general and universal principles can be easily seen. Consider the principle of gravity, or the principle of magnetism, or any number of mathematical principles. An orange plus another orange is two oranges, but what if we add two apples together? If we do not grasp the abstract principle of one plus one equals two, then we would be left to ask such ridiculous questions as this. Each time a new situation arose, we would have to start at square one. Therefore we must recognize and identify the general, abstract principle that unifies and explains each individual case. The same is true in the field of ethics.

Why We Need Principles
    It isn’t enough to know what you think on a particular issue. You should know why you think what you think, and know what principle guided you to your conclusion. Whether you consciously recognize principles or not, every stand you take on an issue carries with it one or more implicit principles. For example, a stand against slavery carries with it the principle of the dignity and sovereignty of the individual, which has implications far beyond the issue of slavery alone.

    But if we do not consciously define our principles, we are bound to promote conflicting ideas, as I will presently demonstrate:

    To again use slavery as an example, it is a contradiction in principles to oppose slavery, but support Socialism. Both ideas state, in principle, that the fruits of a man’s labors do not belong to him, but rather to someone else. And on a deeper level, they both rely upon the principle that a man is not an end in himself, but only a means to the ends of others.

    Another example of such a conflict would be opposition to racism, but support for racial “pride” parades, holidays, and other events where people extol the virtues of a particular race. The former stand rejects the principle of identifying and valuing an individual according to their race, while the latter stand embraces it.

    People adopt such contradictory positions because they fail to consciously identify their abstract principles.

Principles versus Pragmatism
    There is an alternative method of evaluating issues and arriving at conclusions, and that method is known as “Pragmatism”. Pragmatism takes the short-term view of an isolated situation and decides on a course of action without regard for the principles underlying in those actions. With pragmatism, the ends are often seen as justifying the means. Pragmatism also is often confused with being “practical”. But in the long-run, pragmatism is no more practical than it is practical to ignore the principle of gravity, or principles of mathematics.

    An example of the folly of pragmatism would be an individual who wants to discourage racism and also wants to counter its effects through unprincipled, pragmatic actions. Let us suppose such a person supports policies of racial preferences, for example giving jobs or scholarships to people largely based upon their race. Their pragmatic reasoning is that since racism exists and therefore has certain negative effects, they will simply attempt to reverse those effects by preferring the discriminated race. After all, that seems like the “practical” solution. The noble goal certainly seems like an end worthy of the means of applying racial preferences. But in fact, such a person’s principles (conscious or unconscious) are confused and in conflict because they have not taken the time to define their principles and act according to them. Instead, they have only looked at the one isolated situation and decided on an expedient solution without considering the broader implications.

    Beware when people plea for the “practical”, because this usually means they are trying to ignore the principles involved and instead pursue the expedient.

    We have seen how principles are important in the decisions we make and the stands we take, how they allow us to adapt to new situations, and how they help us avoid adopting contradictory positions. Be sure to make a conscious effort to identify your principles and then to apply them to your life by testing each of your ideas against them, looking for inconsistencies.

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