In Praise Of The French

Conservatives love ripping on the French. In the aftermath of 9/11, when W was building his coalition to go to Afghanistan and then Iraq, the French were famously reticent – which bade many conservatives to start referring to The French as “cheese eating surrender monkeys”, among other things.

(As we’ve noted in the space in the past, this is also a reference – largely mistaken – to World War II. As illiterate as Liberals are about history, let it not be said that some conservatives don’t have their blind spots as well).

Conservatives who criticize the French are blinded to the key fact that the French stance was not a bug – it was a feature.

In 1986, the great military historian Edwin Luttwak wrote the classic, seminal book “The Pentagon and the Art of War”. In the book, Luttwak affixed the blame for five straight American military debacles (Vietnam, the Mayagüez incident, Desert One, Reagan’s Lebanon operation and the successful but sloppy and costly invasion of Grenada) to the fact that America had no strategy – or, rather, an underlying strategy that was entirely based on refighting a worldwide conventional war, like World War II.

In short, America’s defensive posture did not have a clear goal that related to the world we were in in the 1980s,  and our military was not built, equipped or trained to accomplish the things it did face.

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On Remembering

Of course, today is 9/11. 

And over the years, I’ve engaged in some picking and choosing over what memories I’ll stress. 

Yes, I remember the attacks; the planes slicing into the  buildings, the people jumping, the confusion, the helplessness that so many felt in the face of what started out as anonymous burst of flaming hell from nowhere. 

And the 3,000 dead?  Yep.   I remember them – and, as always, pray for their families.  I can’t imagine the years have made anything better.  Just older. 

But no – if I’ve learned anything from a bunch of decades of life, it’s that some of the best advice you can get in life came, of all places, from Harry Dean Stanton in the original Red Dawn.  Let it turn to something else. 

So while I remember the other responses, and honor the memories of those murdered that morning, I choose to focus my reminiscence on the other half of 9/11; the response.

Not just the planes full of Green Berets that took off while the rubble was still ablaze, launching a plan that, by Christmas, would end with the toppling of the Taliban, the extinction of the training camps, the disruption of the organization that’d attacked the US so many times in the previous decade. 

And not just the people on Flight 93, who did the most American thing there is – fought back.  They died, but they fought back. 

But most of all, as we endure the detritus of a collectivist, socialist political culture that, like all such “progressive” ventures cheapens the individual for the engorgement of the collective (controlled, natch, by the political class), I remember the people of the Twin Towers. 

Because for years prior to 9/11, the assumption among the First Responder community was that civilians were mindless sheep, prone to panic or worse when the chips were down.  They assumed that buildings full of people would need to be calmed, pacified, and shepherded out of harm’s way by groups of uniformed specialists, or all hell would break loose.  Indeed, it was a cutesy, pro-law-enforcment meme that still pops up occasionally – the police are “sheepdogs”. 

The implication being that we, The People – save for the wolf-like criminals among us – are sheep.  I’ve seen well-meaning people throw that out there over the years, bit my tongue and restrained myself; it’s insulting. 

Because on that morning, virtually everyone that could get out of harm’s way – those below the impact sites in the Twin Towers – did.  They ignored the loudspeakers telling them to stay at their desks, “crowdsourced” a solution, and got themselves – wheelchair-bound and blind and handicapped co-workers and all – out of the buildings as the police and firemen were arriving.   Had everyone followed the “plan” – waited like docile sheep for people in uniform to arrive and tell them what to do – the death toll would have been double, triple what it was, maybe more. 

And yet they – regular American cubicle-drone schnooks – assessed the situation and took care of business. 

That takes nothing away from the hundreds of cops and firemen that died that day – there were many that couldn’t get out, especially those above the crash sites, and the first responders died trying anyway.  There are no words to express my admiration for this, that the Bible hasn’t already given us; truly, greater love hath no man than when he gives his life for another. 

But today?  Just as my antidote to the memory of Auschwitz is that of Israeli paratroopers at the Wailing Wall, or as I respond to the story of anyone being robbed with that of the person who shot the robber in justified self-defense, I think about the Americans that faced boundless horror and evil thirteen years ago today…

…and dealt with it. 

Just as we keep on dealing with it.

I’m Trying. I Really Am.

To be a nicer, more civil person.  I truly am.

Here’s the deal.  I left the Libertarian Party in 1998 largely over the LP’s complete illiteracy on foreign policy and defense.

Now, many “Libertarians” are drawn to the belief, and the party, by the reductionistic magical thinking that all of the world’s questions break down into binary, black-or-white answers.  The right answer to everything lies in unbending, unyielding adherence to “principles”, any deviance from which for any reason is an unforgiveable impurity.

Which is a fine and dandy thing, if your “principles” are so well-thought-out as to account for all of the myriad gray areas life, human nature and history throw into one’s path.  For example, the idea that some “libertarians” have that one is either an isolationist peacenik…or a “warmonger”, with nothing in between.  Too stupid to mock.

Anyway.

What I’m trying to do is figure out a way to write “if everything you know about history and foreign policy is stuff you read from the inside of Ron Paul’s anterior colon, you probably are not going to be a partner in a serious debate”.

And I got nothing.

I’m open to suggestions.

Death Cult

In the lulls between Palestinian/Israeli combat, I sometimes forget how very, very depressed I get at how very ill-informed Americans are about the recent history of the Middle East.

I’ve even seen relatively intelligent acquaintances of mine claim that both sides, Palestinian and Israeli, are morally equal.  One trumpeted “both sides are run by extremists!”, by way of excusing the Palestinians.

I’m going to link to this piece by Dennis Prager – the best, simplest explanation of the last seventy years I’ve ever seen.

“The Israelis want to have a state.  The Palestinians want the Jews dead”.

There is no moral equivalence.

Austerity

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

 

Milton Berle teamed up with Spike Jones and the City Slickers to release “Leave the Dishes In The Sink, Ma” in 1944.

The lyrics provide a glimpse of life for ordinary Americans in the war years.  First, it’s a big deal that our kid is coming home from the war alive, as a Sergeant no less.  Cause to celebrate.

Second, we’ll invite all the neighbors to the party; but what to feed them?  There’s baloney, cheese, pickles in the icebox, and cider in the keg in the cellar.  What, that’s the best you can do, that’s your version of killing the fatted calf?  Well, yeah, in those days, it was.

It was an entirely different world, barely imaginable to people living in America today.

And still, that life that to us is austere is unquestionably better than the life of most of the people around the globe.  The water was safe to drink, easily had.  There was food.  Roof over their heads.  Those who wish to remake America in the image of the rest of the globe, ponder that.

Joe Doakes

The presumption on the part of so much of the Big Left that America would be a great experiment, if it were only socialist, is Obama’s most toxic legacy.

In A Just World…

 …we’d have an administration with Kevin Williamson running domestic policy…:

Our choice is not really between neat ideological verities with their roots in Adam Smith or Karl Marx, but between the DMV and the Apple store. Each model has its downsides, to be sure, but it does not seem like a terribly difficult choice to me.

 And Richard Fernandez as Secretary of State:

Suppose Benghazi was a catastrophic failure, made all the more dangerous by the possibility that Russia had a hand in it. If Putin, having studied how Reagan used the jihad to bring down Soviet Union, played the same game on Barack Hussein Obama, it would explain many otherwise inexplicable things. The role of Snowden. The disgrace of Petraeus. The exile of anyone and anything to do with Benghazi. The kid-gloves treatment of the Ansar attackers. The strange enmity between Hillary and Obama. Each is bound by the same secret. Each lives in fear of the same smoldering fire burning in the bowels of the administration.

The lie is much more dangerous than the truth. America can live with an Obama mistake. But it can’t live with an Obama who cannot acknowledge his mistakes.

 The world is, of course, not just.

But both of them provide some useful templates for gauging candidates and what they believe.

Why I’m No Longer A Libertarian

My old friend Gary Miller is giving a speech to a Young Republican group tomorrow.  Or maybe a College Republican group.  And it might have already happened, for all I know.

But the particulars aren’t as important as the theme of his talk; “Why I’m No Longer a Republican”.

Gary was of course the proprietor of “Truth Vs. The Machine”, one of the great paleocon GOP blogs of the mid-2000s.  Over the past year or two, he’s left the GOP and become a Libertarian; at times, he’s even described himself as an “Anarcho-Libertarian”, one of the small crowd of Libertarians who believe that the only good government is a non-existent government.

And, I suspect, he’s going to describe the genesis of his disenchantment with the GOP, and his eventual move into the Libertarian sphere of things.

I’m sure it’ll be worth attending.  Although I’d probably get carded and 86ed.

But for the benefit of those YRs that might be interested, I thought I’d describe a full circle.  Because where Gary is now, I was, close to 20 years ago.  The details were different, but the disenchantment was the same.  As to the final results?  Well, we won’t know that for quite a while.

Underwhelmed:  I’ve told the story on this blog, and on my show, many times; in 1994, disgusted with Republican support for the 1994 Crime Bill (the last great successful push for gun control in this country), I quit and joined the Libertarians.

I called myself a Libertarian with a big L for four years.  I ran for State Treasurer, and won a moral victory in the 1998 election; my only platform plank was to abolish the office of State Treasurer.  That election, the people of Minnesota voted in a Constitutional initiative to abolish the office, proving they didn’t need pols to do their abolishing for them – and you can’t get more Libertarian than that).

And then I left.  There were really two reasons.

Screaming Into The Void:  If a Libertarian proposes a policy in the woods, and nobody hears them, do they really exist?

Judging by how American government has morphed over the past two decades, the answer is obviously “no”.

I left the Libertarian Party because it’s a party of great, brilliant ideas, declaimed with authority to rooms full of people who vigorously agree, and who remain magnificently above the fray, neither having to try to implement any of those ideas as policy nor, in many cases, claiming to want to try.  To some, the fact that politics is about compromise – battling to a consensus with people who disagree with you – is an invitation to perdition; one might need to compromise ones’ core principles!

So while they think their big thoughts in their salon full of other big thinkers, the non-Libertarian do-ers, unworried about sullying their principles because “getting power for ourselves” was their guiding principle, would be out on the street actually convincing the unconvinced to give them more of it.

And the more I tried to discuss this, the more I realized that while Libertarians paid lip service to the idea of actually winning elections and affecting policy, to way too many Libertarians the goal seemed to be able to say “I told you so” to the rest of society as it slowly turned away from the light.

And that struck me as completely pointless.

So I thought “where can I go where I can work on pushing more Liberty into actual policy that affects real people?”  I went back to the GOP more or less by default; I figured it was a more hospitable party to the idea of “liberty” (and I was right – there is not and can never be a Tea Party, or any Pauls, Rand or Ron, in the Democrat Party).

Quixotic?  Sure.  No moreso than trying to change society from within an echo chamber, though.

Reality Bites:  The other reason?  Libertarians – collectively and singly – are right about just about everything.  Freedom is better.  Government largely is the worst possible solution to every issue.  Decentralized is better than centralized.  Markets are better than regulations.

But there are threeissues about which Libertarians – individually, rather than as a Party – are dead wrong:

  • People are social
  • Human nature is not a construct.
  • Evil exists.

The classic Ayn-Randian Libertrian vision – and to some extent, our founding fathers had it as well – is that society is a mass of autonomous, disconnected equals, whose fate is governed entirely by their own merits and talent in navigating The Market. 

But humans are social animals.  We gather instinctively into groups – marriages, families, clans, tribes, villages, congregations, religions.  Some of them are voluntary, some aren’t.  All of them have rules.  Those rules sometimes take the form of “laws”, and laws are by their nature enforced by something, whether it’s Don Knotts or Catholic Guilt or a SWAT team. 

Of course, those rules – “laws” – exist for a bunch of reasons, the most useful and justifiable of which trace back to our evolutionary imperative to make sure our next generation grows up healthy and able to take care of us and able to raise yet another generation.  Rules like “if you have a kid, take care of it, dont’ run off, don’t kill it”.  Then ” don’t kill other peoples’ kids”.  Then “Don’t kill the people that take care of those kids”.  Then “don’t steal the means by which people feed and care for the next generation – food, land, property, means of production”.   And finally, “don’t go taking the land and killing the people that are the who and where our next generation gets raised”. 

Put another way – thou shalt not kill, steal, lie, cheat, covet other peoples’ stuff or piddle on whatever order we do have. 

And in a nearly perfect world, those rules have to be arrived at by consensus – so we, the people, end up with the bare minimum of “government by consent of the governed”, meaning me.  I want my government to be my employee, not my self-appointed master.

And I want that government to exist for, and deal with, a strictly limited list of things; enforce our contracts, impart consequences on those who do violate the bare minimum of rules we do have (mostly related to using force and violence against others)…

…but, most importantly, when I find my property crawling with Methodists with guns and bombs and knives, to respond with snipers and paratroopers and tanks, to drive the Methodists from all of our property as we sing “Constitutional Capitalist Collective, F**k Yeah!”, and “we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the Strictly Limited Government way…”.

Those are really the only three reasons why anyone should have to interact with anyone else on a non-social basis.  And as it happens, they are the only three that matter…

…and are the ones on which libertarian purists are the  most lost in the philosophical clouds.

So that’s why I’m no longer a Libertarian.

I’m a libertarian-conservative who votes to prevent as much damage to liberty as possible, election by election.

To some, the distinction is meaningless.  To others, it’s meaninglessly precise.  Either way, that’s me, and that’s why.

A Critique

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is walking through the garden store looking for organic potato seeds.  He spots Avery LIBRELLE, over in the tomato section.  BERG turns and tries to quietly leave, but LIBRELLE turns and sees him.

LIBRELLE:  Merg!  (Hurries over toward BERG)

BERG:  Oh – uh, hi, Avery.  What’s up?

LIBRELLE:  I read your stupid piece yesterday about the supposed decline of logic

BERG:  Yeah? 

LIBRELLE:  The first thing I thought was “It’s only Berg.  Who cares what he has to say?”

BERG: In other words, the ad hominem…

LIBRELLE: Oh, shush with all your Greek words.  It lowered my self-esteem for a bit – until I realized something; an argument can be fallacious but still be logical!

BERG:  Er…sorta.  You can use logic to persuade people of something that’s not true.  I mean, that’s basic rhetoric.  But the problem is in the audience’s ignorance, or the lack of information they have, or…

LIBRELLE:  Exactly!  Logic is one of those things lawyers use to hide the truth.  Anyway - what I do is, at the beginning of an argument, I ask “What is the truth”.

BERG:  Er…OK.  So before the debate starts, you find out….what…

LIBRELLE:  I find out whatthe truthis.  And then I run with that. 

BERG:  OK…so you just ask “what is the truth, here?”

LIBRELLE:  Yep!  Because the truth of something isn’t related to how well it’s argued!

BERG:  So you figure “I’ll just go straight for the truth”.

LIBRELLE:  Yep.  Truth is truth, whether people or know or discuss it or not. 

BERG:  Huh.  And so how do you find what is “the truth”?  Say we’re on a jury, and the prosecution has their version of what happened, and the defense has a different version of what happened.  Do you just ask the judge “what is “the truth” here?”

LIBRELLE:  Well, empirical evidence helps.

BERG:  OK, now we’re onto something!  Where does “empirical evidence” come from?

LIBRELLE:  Western Thought!  And modern western thinking started when thinkers became willing to consider the illogical!

BERG:  Good lord – the process of getting “empirical evidence” is called “the scientific method”, and it is built on classical logic!   And then when your evidence leads you to a conclusion, you have to convince others that your conclusion is valid!  And logic is how you build a valid argument that focuses on fact!

LIBRELLE:  Just like Johnny Cochrane did! 

BERG:  Er, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” was part logic, part rhetoric.  It was closer to marketing than classical logic…

LIBRELLE:  I demolished you with that!

BERG:  Look – logic is how we convince ourselves, and others, what the truth is.  For example, if I’m trying to convince you that “Stand your Ground” laws make sense, I would show you, logically, how such laws are immediately correlated with drops in unjustifiable homicide…

LIBRELLE:  …and then I call you racist!  Because I read something in the Daily Kos that said so!

BERG:  Er… (slowly backing away) I hadn’t thought of it that way… (notices that LIBRELLE has started chewing on a tomato start.  BERG slowly turns and walks away .

(And SCENE)

(AUTHOR NOTE:  While the names and flow have been changed, the conversation above actually happened with a liberal on Twitter.  Yes, it did.  Remember; the left are the smart ones).

The Left’s War On The Western Intellect

One never needs to look far for a Berg’s Seventh Law violation.  But this one may be the big daddy of them all.

For all the left’s bargling about how smart they are and how stupid the teabagging wingnuts are, it’s the left that’s waging a war against the intellectual traditions that made the West a great, and – by world historical standards – free, prosperous and enlightened place.

The Late, Great Debate:  I did debate team for one year, and speech team for two in high school.  And with all due respect to the debaters in my social circle – including John Hinderaker, a national college debate champ – there was no question about it; debate team was the lesser set of skills.  The best “debaters” merely honed their ability to rattle off, auctioneer-style, factoids in a coherent-sounding case; oratorical style and even audible legibility didn’t make the cut as priorities.  Debaters tended to make lousy “forensics” speakers.

But debate teaches a vital skill – indeed, perhaps one of Western Civilization’s most vital skills; classical logic.  A good debater knows how to contruct a logical argument, quickly, steering clear of glaring logical fallacies which will, of course, cost them points with literate judges.

Or rather, they knew it.

John Hinderaker relates the story of the decline and fall of collegiate debate, where teams are now winning “debate” tournaments while ignoring the stated topic and swerving into their own personal polemics, often in “slam poetry” and hip-hop styles and, dumber still, declaring the idea of “logic” and “structure” to be racist:

The assertion that “the framework of collegiate debate has historically privileged straight, white, middle-class students” is puzzling. By “privileged,” the writer apparently means that these are the people who have been good at it. Historically, most college students have of course been white and middle-class, but so what?

“Collegiate debate” has turned into the MinnPost comment section!

I’m tempted to declare that the structure, rules and equipment of the NFL are ageist, classist and ableist, and play using only a shotgun and a hockey stick; why should those privileged with athletic talent and lack of years have all the fun and money?

Well, no – I won’t.  Because I’m not an idiot.

The underlying message from the academy (and hip hop forms notwithstanding, the end of collegiate debate is a battle between academic points of view, not tastes in music) is that logic and structure – the building blocks of western philosophy, “liberal” government, modern science, and indeed every Western intellectual tradition worth preserving – are matters of racist “privilege”.

Would we have had a small-”l” liberal government, ann Enlightenment, a Renaissance, math and science as we know it, a legal system remotely worth having, and any common intellectual tradition without classical logic?

Happy To Be An Intellectual Midget For A Better Minnesota!:  Of course, it’s more than just a national thing; the Minnesota Left has been doing its best to make politics and public life in Minnesota  dumber, coarser, nastier thing.

Bill Glahn dials this tendency in as remorselessly as a sniper:

As the 2014 election campaign heats up, a drearily familiar pattern is repeating itself. Flush with big dollars from out-of-state donors, Democrat-front group Alliance for a Better Minnesota (ABM) is attacking Republican candidates under the theme Wrong for Minnesota…Back in the dim mists of time—when dinosaurs still trod upon the earth—I was taught that arguing against the person (ad hominem) rather than what the person was saying, defied the laws of logic.

When I was in debate in high school, and moreso when arguing points in college, leading with the ad hominem was a good way to have your thesis sent to the showers.

I was taught in classical Greek rhetoric that a message that relied exclusively on raw emotion (pathos)—rather than reason (logos) or an appeal to values (ethos)—was considered the lowest form of communication.
Ad hominem and pathos are the only form of expressions ABM is capable of. The reason why ABM relies on these tactics is because they work. The object is not to engage in debate, but to end debate by surpressing voter turnout. ABM is not trying to convince you that you should vote for Democrats, they are trying to convince you that no Republican possesses the personal character worthy of your vote.

And it works.  A potential candidate for higher office talked with me about ABM’s efforts last year; this person wanted very much to run for an office that would be up for election this year, but couldn’t; while they have the political savvy, experience and record to do the job, ABM would make their personal life – things unrelated to politics, of course – a living hell.  And so a good candidate opted out of the race – leaving that bit more room for an inferior Democrat.

To add insult to injury?  The same media full of Lori Sturdevants and Keri Millers that snivel about the “vitriol” and “anger” in politics, are utterly silent about the Alliance’s crimes against logic:

Should a Republican whisper about the health of our current governor or the temperament of our junior senator, they are immediately shouted down by local media.

Either because of personal relationships or broad sympathy with the aims of ABM, these tactics are never questioned by local media. ABM’s increasingly fantastic and desperate claims against Republicans are never subjected to the “fact-check” apparatus.

And why is that?

Why has MPR, especially their “Fact-Check” operation, “Poligraph”, never systematically looked into ABM’s propaganda?  Catherine Richert?  Mike Mulcahy?  Tom Scheck? Anyone?

The Sick Of It All Manifesto

I don’t really like politics.

“But Mitch – you write a bizarrely-prolific blog about politics!  You host the top-rated radio talk show in the United States [1]Surely you are obsessed with politics!”

Nope.  Hate ‘em.

Can’t stand most politicians, either…

…well, no.  That’s not really true.  For all of the joking people make about the depravity of politicians, I’ve found most of the politicians I’ve actually gotten to know personally - most of them state and local, since that’s my social circle - to be perfectly good people.  Some of them very, very much so.

“Operatives?”  The staffers that work for politicians, and the campaign consultants and issue and organizations?  They’re a mixed bag in many ways – some of them greasy and sleazy, some of them really good people – but they seem to share a furious focus and a brutal work ethic.  I’ll give ‘em that.

But politics, itself?  Never cared for it.

Partly because the best description of politics – the one I used to shake my head at 20-30 years ago, and attribute to the conspiratorial and overly-excited and the perspective challenged – is actually the best one there is; the monopoly on the legal use of force.    While the line does get repeated by the conspiratorial, the jacked-up and those with warped perspectives, it’s also true; to paraphrase Kevin Williamson, if you stop paying your taxes or send your kids to a non-government approved school or build your house taller or wider than the local zoning ordinances permit or get your buzz on or produce milk or cut hair outside of current government tolerances, you will, sooner or later, if you carry on with it,  eventually wind up with people with guns and handcuffs and tasers at your front door, ready to take your property, your money and your freedom with impunity.

There are really only two reasons I’m involved in politics:

  1. Hi, We’re From The Government, And We’re Here To Help (you into a paddy wagon):  I try, in my own way, to try to make sure the “government showing up at citizens’ doors with court orders and guns” situations are limited to the absolute moral minimum; let’s save the SWAT teams for the meth-crazed robbery rings, and bother less with unlicensed Eritrean hair braiders or people who don’t pay their school lunch bill.  There is a place and time for government to use force; those places and times have been getting way too common for the past fifty years or so.
  2. Those things that can’t be sustained, won’t be:  Our national debt is greater than an entire year’s GDP; every iPhone sold, every ear of wheat harvested, every lawn mowed and pair of shoes bought and class taught, every single whiff of economic activity including you buying food for your kids, for an entire year, might pay most of our current debt, and it’s not going anywhere.  And that doesn’t ‘even count the entitlements, over 100 trillion worth, that are lurking beyond that; over an entire year’s output from the entire planet’s economy; every grain of rice harvested in Indonesia, every Android assembled in Hunan, every bit of economic activity on the planet, for over a year, would pay it off.  Ready to go without groceries for 12 months?    Well, of course not – that can’t happen.  Either can paying off all those debts, without gutting the economy.  This level of debt can’t be sustained – and it won’t be.

So outside of local government – trying to inveigle Saint Paul into maybe plowing and patching streets, instead of building trains and refrigerated ice rinks in one of the coldest state capitols in America – my main goals out of politics are to…:

Try to bring the economy in for the softest landing possible:  Remember those debt numbers?   Of course you do – they’re like two grafs up there.   Worse comes to worst, and people will look back on 1933 as the good times.  The road back from debt like that is brutally difficult if you do it right – and let’s be honest, neither of our major political parties is going to do a damn thing about it (although the GOP pays the task the most convincing lip service, and I suspect contains the very few people who have both the chance and will to try to affect policy beyond the “lip service” (or, in the case of the big-L Libertarian party, “pipe dream”) level.  And John Boehner isn’t one of them; of Minnesota’s current congressional delegation, Michelle Bachmann is the only one I’ve even heard try to explain the problem to voters.  And she’s outta there in less than a year.

My main goal in politics is to try to do what I can to make sure my kids, and grandkids, and their kids, aren’t living on soup lines and scraping for change under bus seats because of our current government’s profligachy.

Shall Never Disappear From The Face Of The Earth:  And it’s not just the economy, stupid; poor societies become ugly societies, but quick. If you think “majority rules” is an ugly thing today, at a time when even a long recession has left us more prosperous than any society in history, then mob rule during the mother of all depressions will certainly leave a mark on you.

Progressivism – and its much more evil older brother, Statism – never, ever wastes a crisis.  It used World War I and the breakdown of European power to establish statist governments in major countries; the Depression allowed it to metastasize in a more benign form to the western liberal democracies and constitutional monarchies.

Imagine what everyone from George Soros on down the ranks to Alida Messinger could do with a complete collapse of the world’s lynchpin economy, taking down the entire world’s economic order?

I stay involved in politics because if good people don’t try to maintain some control of – again, being honest here – the state’s monopoly on force, bad people most certainly will.

And Yet…:  The collapse of the economy doesn’t have to be all bad.  The fact that government will be unable to afford to do much will mean that people will have to do things they way they did them – almost invariably better, at least in the US – before World War I.

I’m unstinting in recommending the book The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure, by Kevin D. Williamson.  In it, Williamson points out that not only did the private market, and just-plain-citiziens, do most of the things that government does today, but did it much better and much cheaper.

Wanna privatize Social Security?  There’ll be your chance!

Wanna make welfare work-based, and end the decades of fruitless debate here in Minnesota?  Oh, it’ll be work-based all right.

Education?  A hundred years of government education modeled after the Prussian system (and intended more to stomp out radical immigrant allegiances and create “good citizens” than to “educate”), the literacy rate has scarcely budged – and when you consider than an eighth-grader in World War 2 (the average level of education back then) was more literate, and a better critical thinker, than most college Freshmen today, you can see there might be a better approach to the problem.

Healthcare?  You do realize that fraternal organizations like the Elks, the Moose and the like, as well as religious organizations, not only handled group health 100 years ago, and did it almost as effectively as employer paid healthcare today (to say nothing of MNSure), but did it in such a way as to ensure the growth rather than stagnation of the medical profession, right?

Law enforcement?  Yeah – the “Wild West”, where most “justice” and “law” was privately negotiated, was one of the most peaceful places and times in American history (provided you weren’t a native tribe; every premise has its gaps).  Even Dodge City and Abilene – both were vastly more peaceful than the law-clogged, politics-dominated fever swamps of the coastal cities.

But Wait!:  But don’t start bombarding me with Ron Paul quotes – because Libertarianism, especially the brutalist, Ayn-Rand-sodden variety popular among the Austrian-school fratboys that make up the driving force of the Big-L party these days (pushing out the raw milk and help set, although they share all sorts of rhetoric) is a loser with real people in the real world.

No, not liberty – the idea that we should be free, that our society should be a free association of equals, that we should all be equal in the eyes of the law and at the ballot box, and free to prosper according to our merit and energy.  Those are winners for most people; that’s why most of our forefathers came here. 

But today’s brutalist Libertarianism considers “community” a dirty word.  Which is fine – except that humans are a communitarian species.  We gather in groups, and establish rules amongst ourselves pretty instinctively.  Don’t believe it?  Watch a group of six year old boys playing in an open field.  Libertarianism resonates with me in terms of keeping “the community” from taking over and running the individual’s life, and making sure the “community” is focused as close to the individual as possible. 

And don’t get me started on the “anarcho-libertarians”, which is what too many of the Austrain-school fratboys think they are; while “anarchy” has a nice set of platitudes that pass for an “intellectual case”, they collapse over two key points:

  1. Human nature is not a “construct”. 
  2. Evil exists.

No matter what stasis you and your similarly-anarchic neighbors find amongst yourselves, in your existences as lone gentleman farmers on your farms in the hypothetical social void, at some point someone who doesn’t have what you want is going to come along and want what you have.  And they’ll realize that while you, Gentleman Farmer, are more than a match for him in a duel, he’s not going to come alone.  This group – let’s say they’re Methodists, because we know how warlike and acquisitive Methodist theology is – comes in groups of 15-30, because they are not anarchists. 

Human nature is not a construct.  Evil exists.  Not every human wants to take other peoples’ stuff by force – but enough do, that communities find it advantageous to band together to keep those pesky Methodists (or other aberrations of human nature) at bay. 

Which involves rules.  And the tension between authority and liberty. 

And a world that doesn’t fit nicely into that anarchist worldview. 

So there’s a conundrum.

The Problem, Of Course, is getting to the point where we, the not-stupid people, can drive society in a direction where, if (hah hah hah) and when the debt finally crushes our economy, it can recover in a direction that leaves us with more, not less, freedom.

More on that – much more – next week.

At any rate – that, and only that, is why I’m involved in politics, here or on the air or in my real life.

Beyond that, what’s the point?

And yet beyond that, what else matters?

[1] As measured in moral terms, not necessarily raw audience numbers.

Don’t Turn Around

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is sitting at a stoplight when his car is jolted from behind. 

Wearily, BERG gets out of his car and walks to the car that has bumped his rear bumper.  Avery LIBRELLE sits at the driver’s seat, still furiously typing on a mobile device.

BERG:  (Recognizes LIBRELLE):  Oh, jeez.   You know you slid into my…

LIBRELLE:  Wait!  (furiously finishes typing comment onto news website).  OK.  What now?

BERG:  Well, you sorta slid into my back bumper.  (Checks bumper).  Not much damage, but still…

LIBRELLE:  Yeah, well, I had to comment on this Ukraine thing.  The Administration is doing a heck of a job.

BERG:  The Administration is doing nothing at all.

LIBRELLE:  Well, we only have so much we can do.  We have no credibility.

BERG:   I’ll say.  Obama has pretty much…

LIBRELLE:   No, you racist, it’s not Obama.  It’s the US.  We have no credibility on human rights issues.

BERG:  What now?

LIBRELLE:  Look at slavery!  Look at what we did with the Indians.

BERG:  Wait.  Slavery – which we fought a civil war to abolish 150 years ago – and the wars against the Native Americans, which ended 120 years ago, destroy our credibility today?

LIBRELLE:  Absolutely.  And the people of the Crimea just voted, 93% of them, to rejoin Russia.

BERG: In an election in which they were surrounded by Russian troops.

LIBRELLE:  So that invalidates the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, then?

BERG: (slowly shakes head).  You do realize that justifying a larger, aggressive nation swallowing up parts of smaller nations based purely on ethnicity is how the west rationalized Germany taking the Sudetenland, don’t you?

LIBRELLE:  Bla bla bla.  Russia is liberating Crimea from the Ukrainitarians, who unlawfully stole it from them.

BERG:   OK, about that.  Let’s run, for sake of argument, with the idea that slavery and the conquest of the American Indians invalidates America’s claim to being a moral player.

LIBRELLE:  It does.

BERG:   Even though it happened over 110 years ago, and our society has spent the better part of the past 40-50 years atoning for both, which is something no other society on earth haseverdone for societies they previously conquered and enslaved.

LIBRELLE:   Bla bla bla.  Do you have a point?

BERG:   I always have a point.  You do realize that the reason the Crimea is ethnically Russian is that the Russians murdered, starved and deported the vast majority of the non-Russian natives of the region back in the twenties through the forties, and shipped in ethnic Russians to replace them, don’t you?  That is to say, within the past seventy to ninety years, they either murdered the people who lived there at the time – the Tatars, the Turks, the German-Russians and all other other ethnic groups that used to live there – in an ethnic cleansing no less brutal than Wounded Knee and the Trail of Tears, but within living memory, as they were also starving Ukraine into submission - or shipped them off to the steppes and a fate not one iota less horrible than slavery?

LIBRELLE:  Your point?

BERG:  You deny the US has any moral weight, but ignore vastly worse and more recent crimes to fit your narrative.

LIBRELLE:   Bla bla bla.  Hey, you have insurance, right?  Could you get this one?

(And SCENE)

Bob and Carol & Jane & Alice

Two’s company; three’s potentially legal

A narrow national majority favors same-sex marriage.  Will that majority favor a plurality?

When it comes to debating social issues, the  ”slippery slope” argument often holds the least amount of traction.  As Minnesota was racked by contentious debate surrounding last year’s marriage amendment, one of the litany of debate volleys was that opening the door to same-sex marriage could inevitability lead to polygamy.  Same-sex marriage supporters dismissed the notion, suggesting the argument was tangential at best, and a “scare tactic” at worst.

Boo:

Advocates for so-called plural marriages are applauding a ruling by a U.S. District Court judge that struck down key segments of Utah’s anti-polygamy law, saying they violated constitutional rights to privacy and religious freedom.

In a 91-page decision issued Friday, Judge Clark Waddoups effectively decriminalized polygamy in Utah, ruling that a central phrase in the state’s law forbidding cohabitation with another person violated the 1st and 14th amendments.

In all fairness, the lawsuit, brought about by the stars of the TLC reality show “Sister Wives”, depicting a Utah Mormon family with one legal wife and three “wives” who live with them, was more over striking down language that prevented religious cohabitation than actually allowing polygamy.  Kody Brown, the “star” of “Sister Wives” remains only legally married to one woman.  But proponents and opponents of polygamy alike agree that the ruling has opened the door to potentially allowing multiple partners in a marriage.

The debate reached the pages of the New York Times, and in true Gray Lady fashion, presented four arguments in favor of what is now being called “plural marriage” with only two dissenting points of view.  To ape T.S. Eliot, this is how social convention dies, not with a bang, but with a series of op-eds.

If the contours of the New York Times‘ debate on polygamy looked familiar, they should – because they neatly conform to the same lines of argument that have defined the same-sex marriage debate.  Laws against polygamy are discrimination.  Plural marriage advocates deserve respect and dignity.  Plural marriage makes us freer as a society.  Heck, even the arguments against “scare tactics” make a triumphant return.  Opponents can sight studies showing the negative effects of polygamy on women and children, but essentially are reduced to arguing that the move represents a further tumble down that ill-defined “slippery slope.” Continue reading

Occupy Vatican

Lighten up, Francis.

Most observers, Catholic or not, recognized the sea-change brought about by Pope Francis I.  An Argentinian Cardinal, Francis supposed a move left for the Catholic Church from the days of Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II.  While Francis hasn’t shocked many with his bending on social issues, his most boisterous attacks have been on economic issues – a move leftward he restated by declaring “unfettered capitalism” a “new tyranny.”

The move isn’t exactly unprecedented.  Pope Benedict XVI voiced deep reservations about modern capitalism. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict reiterated “progressive” stances in areas of public unions and economic redistribution; areas often overshadowed within the media by Benedict’s undoubted commitment to baroque liturgies and traditional moral norms.  The election of Pope Francis caused everyone from full-time Vaticanologists to the average Catholic in the pew to recognize a shift, a change of emphasis and style, and a laser-like focus on poverty from the new pope.  Continue reading

A Pack, Not A Herd

Ted Nugent, famous gonzo guitarist and gun nut, says that armed, law-abiding citizens are likely the only coherent way that open societies have to protect against “soft target” terror attacks like the massacre Westgate Mall in Nairobi:

“Societies have to think about how they’re going to approach the problem,” Noble said. “One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves are so secure that in order to get into the soft target you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security.”

Noble’s comments came only moments after the official opening of the 82nd annual gathering of the Interpol’s governing body, the General Assembly. The session is being held in Cartagena, Colombia, and is being used to highlight strides over the last decade in Colombia’s battle against the notorious drug cartels that used to be the real power in the country.

The secretary general, an American who previously headed up all law enforcement for the U.S. Treasury Department, told reporters during a brief news conference that the Westgate mall attack marks what has long been seen as “an evolution in terrorism.” Instead of targets like the Pentagon and World Trade Center that now have far more security since 9/11, attackers are focusing on sites with little security that attract large numbers of people.

Wait – “Noble?”  I thought it was Ted Nugent…

…oh, I can’t keep a straight face.  It’s not Ted Nugent.  It’s Ronald Noble, who is in charge of Interpol. 

And if Interpol – an agent of international statism – is finally twigging to the idea that the citizens are their own best last line of defense (short of absurd levels of “security”, which we all know means “Security Theater”, and for the most part immense sacrifice of freedom. 

Your choice.

A Little Knowledge

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my various liberal lawyer friends, it’s this; when I see news of the filing of an absurd lawsuit demanding a bizarre amount of money for an insane claim, take a step back and a deep breath.  A filing does not equal a judgment; while the occasional batspittle-crazy judgment happens, the vast majority of bizarre lawsuits end in a dismissal on summary judgment; a judge determines that no actual matters of law are involved, so there’s no need for a trial. 

And the bizarre cases that appeared in a splash of laughter and anger disappear, unlamented and

Over the weekend, the word got out among the usual circles about a Swiss proposal to give every single citizen a $2,600 monthly government-paid income

There were two reactions from among Americans I’d broadly call “conservative”; mockery, and a little bit of head-scratching.

We’ll look into the head-scratching first. 

The Big Fix: In his classic book Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke noted that if we just gave the money we currently spend on social welfare to people whose income is below the poverty line, we could bring every person in the United States up to the poverty line, and save money.  We’d do something that eighty years of “progressive” social policy has “tried” and failed to do; eradicate poverty, at least in a literal, personal-financial sense. 

The Swiss “plan” – assuming it also involved eliminating other poverty entitlement programs – might be a huge step toward simplifying poverty entitlements and, perversely, saving money…

The Swiss Reality- …if there were the slightest chance of it becoming law.

The Swiss federal system allows the National Assembly – the Swiss parliament – to refer bills dealing with major government issues – taxes, spending and big policy issues – to a national vote, very, very easily. 

Switzerland, like Minnesota, is starkly divided along what we’d call “red/blue” lines; the big cities, Zürich and Basel and Geneva, are every bit as clogged with socialist bobbleheads as Minneapolis or Duluth.  But the cantons (states) of greater Switzerland tend to be very conservative. The largest party in the National Assembly is the “Swiss People’s Party” (Scheweizerische Volkspartei, or SVP in German), a center-right party that, unlike many European “conservative” parties, could be recognized as “conservative” by an American Tea Partier. The SVP leads a coalition of center and right-leaning parties that don’t quite have a majority of the Parliament – 94 out of 200 seats in the lower house – but would require absolute unity among their opposition to effectively beat. 

But this isn’t even a parliamentary referendum.  Swiss law allows citizen petitions with 100,000 signatures – out of a population of 8 million citizens, or roughly 2% of the voting population - to force a referendum.

Andthatis how this proposal got on the ballot. 

On the one hand, it allows well-organized grass-roots groups to make a big electoral splash by getting the darnedest hare-brained ideas onto the national ballot. 

On the other?  They almost always get beaten.  A “grassroots” group of Swiss got an initiative to abolish the Swiss military onto the ballot in 2011.  It got a slew of headlines.

And it lost by about a 3:1 margin. 

The election of Jesse Ventura shows that if times are good enough, you can get up to 37% of any population to suspend their good judgement on a lark, when they don’t think it matters that much.

But here, we’re talking money.

This initiative is going to generate a lot of headlines, and a fair amount of mockery from American, left and right, who don’t get how Swiss democracy works…

…and, soon, a 2:1 electoral defeat.

Filibuster Notes

As this is written, Ted Cruz is still filibustering. 

A couple of observations. 

On the one hand, a friend of mine – a disaffected Republican and Ron Paul supporter – snarked something like “Hey, Ted Cruz is filibustering Obamacare!  Western Civilization will be saved!  Oh, wait – no, we’re still screwed”. 

So let me get this straight; when some people launch quixotic grandstanding windmill-tilts against big government, taxation, spending and creeping statism, it’s a statement of rock-solid principle, but when others do it for the same reasons, it’s snark-fodder? 

I’ll have to chew on that one for a while.

Grandstanding:  As Michael Medved pointed out yesterday, the filibuster is, tactically, pointless.  The Senate – and its majority of Democrats – will support the President.  Period. 

Politically?  Medved among others also had a point:  Obama wants the government to shut down.  He benefits when he (and a compliant media) can pin pain on smaller government.  And while the sequester was a complete squib for him, a shutdown would provide an endless parade of calumny for the media, his Praetorian Guard, to force-feed the “for the children” voter segment. 

And that’s not the only reason a shutdown benefits Obama.

The Great Diversion:  Think about it.  Obama’s been in office almost five years.  What does he have to show for it?

  • An economy that is creating nothing but part-time jobs (unlike all previous recoveries – a sort of economic,ex post facto”Berg’s Seventh Law”).
  • Thousands of American guns sent across the border to the narcotraficantes, resulting in the deaths of American cops and Mexican children.
  • Four Americans dead in a terrorist attack, who had the misfortune to be attacked in a place that apprently was serving as a hand-off point for a black-bag weapons-smuggling operation sending arms to a movement that is rapidly being taken over by Al Quaeda – leading to a year worth of stonewalling that looks more and more like a coverup.
  • The Middle East is in worse shape than it’s been since the 80s, and our stature in the world has shrunk since Dubya left office.
  • And a bold trip to where even Nixon never went; the Obama Administration appears to have used the IRS to stifle conservative political dissent.

And even if you get all of those out of the way, what is Obama left with?  Obamacare – a law with some popular provisions that needed to happen via one mechanism or another (portability, dealing with pre-existing conditions) but is, as a package, about as popular as mandatory ice-water enemas. 

What would better serve Obama’s purposes than to divert attention away from everything he and his Administration have done?

A government shutdown, I suspect, strikes this blog’s audience (as it does me) at first blush as a great idea.  But it plays right into Obama’s hands.

So Cruz should stop filibustering and take a nap – right?

But Not So Fast:  As we  noted earlier this morning, Americans are fundamentally conservative.  They don’t identify with the GOP at the moment – at least in part because the mainstream GOP, the Beltway GOP of the consultants, doesn’t reflect the conservative principals that Americans support. 

And they didn’t last year – which was why conservatives stayed home on election day, handing another term to Obama.

The Tea Party wave of 2010 went back underground. 

But it’s still out there.  The Gallup and Rasmussen polls show it. 

And while Ted Cruz’ filibuster isn’t going to defund Obamacare, and it’d probably be a very bad idea to let it shut down the government, it could be – if the GOP is smart enough, and I have doubts about that – a key step toward doing something that all of the GOP consultants in the Beltway can’t do and don’t really want to; mobilize the vast unwashed base of Tea Party conservatives, people who don’t like to identify as Republicans  but see perfectly well that Obama and our idiot Congress have us on the road to Palookaville.

Say No

 Last night, I caught a bit of Hugh Hewitt.  His line is that we need to start convincing Congress to support some sort of action in Syria.  Not so much to “support the President”, but to support some sort of decisive action against Syria. 

Hugh’s a smart guy, and a great friend of mine and of the NARN broadcast.

But he’s wrong on this one.  So are all the Republicans who are getting rolled into supporting this idea – Boehner, Cantor, McCain. 

Hugh’s point is that we can’t stand by and watch children getting murdered, especially the ghastly murders we saw on YouTube last month.   There’s scarcely a person among us, especially parents, who didn’t see that video and want to load up the B52s and go all Jack Bauer on the perps.

Whoever they were.

The Motives: We’re assured it was Assad – by the same intelligence services that have been covering the President’s butt for the last year in re Benghai, and that have a worse record than the Macalester football team.  Others aren’t so sure it was Assad

I’m sure not.  Think about it.  Assad was slowly but surely winning his war against the rebels; by most accounts, the rebels’ tide peaked last year, and has been ebbing.  Armed by his Russian and Iranian benefactors, supported by the same parts of Syrian society that support the Mullahs’ in Iran – the not-so-photogenic rural crowd that doesn’t speak English as a second language and doesn’t make it onto NPR stories about life in Syria – Assad was slowly winning the war, block by bloody block.  It wasn’t pretty – but “bloody and ugly” can serve a dictator just as well as fast and surgical. 

There’s plenty of evidence that chemical weapons have been used many times in the Syrian Civil War, by both sides, in small, “surgical” attacks, away from the public eye. 

So with the war swinging his direction, what was, exactly, Assad’s motivation to launch a large, carpet-bombing raid with Sarin in Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar – densely-populated rebel-controlled suburbs of Damascus?

Where all of the world’s media are,  ensuring the attack would receive (by police-state standards) saturation coverage?

Eggs For the Omelet:  Now, the Assad family has all kinds of blood on  its hands.  There’ve been countless massacres under the Assad family’s control of Syria.  One might surmise that all of them have been done at such a time and place and magnitude as to avoid drawing untoward Western scrutiny, since until the civil war started you probably had little to no idea of Syria’s human rights record.  Right?

And then, suddenly, 1,400 dead people, 400 of them children, killed right where all the cameras area. 

Assad isn’t above doing it – but what would be the point of bringing down the opprobium of the entire world just as the war is starting to swing his way?

But the extreme elements of the “rebels?”   Killing their own people has been a treasured part of the extremist playbook for centuries.  The French, Russian and Chinese revolutions are clogged with tales of extremists killing their own people, or allowing them to be killed, for propaganda purposes.  It serves several purposes; it’s grade A grist for the propaganda mill, and if you do it right,  you get rid of some of the “allies” that you’ll need to dispense with to solidify your own faction’s control (see Marat, the Mensheviks, Ernst Röhm).  All of them – especially the children – are eggs that regrettably must be broken to make the omelet. 

I think the case against the “rebels” makes a lot more sense than the one against Assad. 

Politics:Leaving aside the actual incident?  Obama is playing the GOP for fools.  And they’re obliging.

If it succeeds, of course, Obama – aided by his compliant Praetorian Guard in the media – will engineer a Caesarian triumph.  The NYTimes will proclaim that it’s Obama’s victory.    That’d happen whether he gets Congressional approval or, for that matter, if he’d disregarded Congress and charged in with guns blazing. 

By seeking Congressional approval – and going through the charade of being seen to “want” GOP buy-in – Obama is setting up the GOP up to take the blame when the action turns into a fiasco.  As it pretty likelly will – more below.   

This, as Obamacare spirals into full debacle mode, as the IRS and Benghazi and NSA and Fast and Furious scandals are begging for attention, and as the economic “recovery” starts to look more and more like a high-functioning coma. 

The Fiasco Within:  George Patton summed up the goal of war pretty well.  You kill the enemy as fast and as violently and as constantly as you can, so that the war ends as soon as possible, with victory.   You know your objective, and you kill whatever it takes to achieve it, because it’s in acheiving the objective that the war ends with as many of your people as possible alive.

And I picture Patton – or really any soldier worthy of the uniform – looking at Obama’s puling, PR-focus-grouped “plan”, replete with “sending messages” and “degrading capabilities” and “punishing the regime”, and puking his guts out with revulsion. 

You do not risk American lives to “send messages”.

You do not parlay American blood and treasure to rap a gangster thug across the knuckles and mess with his networks. 

You do either, or both, to win the war, provided that the war was worth fighting in the first place; that American security and interests were genuinely, tangibly threatened, in a war that makes and keeps this country safer. 

So why are we flirting with an action that could open a huge regional war – and blow up what’s left of our economy to boot?  What’s the objective that’s worth so much American blood and treasure?

Even our military has a hard time explaining.  And that’s a huge problem.

On the other hand, some of our greatest, most rational minds on the subject of military action – Victor Davis Hanson among ‘em – can spell out the case against intervention in so many ways you’re tempted to say “enough with the overkill”. 

Wag The Boehner: This action is the tail wagging the dog.  I strongly suspect that it’s an epic deception – and whether it is or isn’t, it’s being manipulated by the Administration for political purposes, to give a war-weary public something else to hold against Republicans in 2014, just in time to give Obama control of the House. 

And John Boehner and Eric Cantor are aiding and abetting it. 

Are they doing it for all the right reasons – to avenge the dead children.  Who doesn’t want to keep the children safe?  Everyone!

Sure.  And so they’ll go down in history – having been brutally manipulated into a colossal mistake, for all the right reasons.

Still More Of That Smart Diplomacy

Brits have been fighing, and dying, alongside Americans in the Middle East for over 20 years now. 

But if you stand up Obama?  Time to bring in the bouncers:

British military chiefs are being ejected from US meetings about Syria in the first direct consequence of David Cameron’s refusal to join military action.

The role of senior British officers based at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, has been downgraded because they cannot be trusted with high-level intelligence about a conflict with which they are no longer involved, military sources say.

Say what you will about the idea of the war itself. 

But this is further evidence that Obama isn’t just the worst president of my lifetime, but perhaps the dumbest.

Christie Vs. Paul

The left-leaning media – meaning “most of the media” – is tittering and cavorting about the sparks that’ve been flying between New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. “GOP CIVIL WAR”, they bellow, as if it’s something new.

It’s not.

There are three different definitions of “Conservative” in American political life:

  • Northeastern Conservatives: Comfortable with big government, socially moderate-to-liberal on social issues (defined broadly; it refers to education, welfare and immigration as much as abortion and gay marriage), assertive on defense, tolerant of massive intrusions in the interest of internal security. Their focus is less on shrinking government than on getting the best value for the tax dollar. Think Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Chris Christie – or for that matter Norm Coleman. Don’t think Michael Bloomberg; he’s not a conservative in any way, shape or form.
  • Western Conservatives: Favor aggressively limiting government. Generally socially libertarian (at least on a policy level; they may or may not be personally conservative), frequently vague on defense, favor law and order but opposing massive law-enforcement overreach. Favors shrinking government intrusions in the economy and personal life. Think the Tea Party and the pols that are aligned with it, including Rand Paul and, largely, Rick Perry.
  • Southern Conservatives: Comfortable with big government, conservative on social issues, hawkish on defense and law-and-order. There aren’t many major contenders from the Southern school in this campaign.  Huckabee’s a southern-con.  You could make a case Dubya was one, too. 

So the Christie/Paul kerfuffle isn’t just a battle between candidates; it’s a battle between fundamentally different schools of American conservatism.

And after reading both of them, it’s clear; they’re both right.

Christie Was Right – Libertarians, when it comes to national security, frequently are lost in la-la land. I’ve long since lost count of the Ron Paul supporters who sincerely believe that Iran would be a great friend of the US if we just acted nice to them (and left the Israelis to their own devices with no further ado). Not a few libertarians are just as lost in the fog as Vietnam-era anti-war liberals when it comes to one of history’s great facts; societies that practice war eat societies that would eschew it for breakfast.

Sure – the relatively peaceful, relatively liberal democracies of the West did in fact eventually defeat the warmongering totalitarian Nazis, to pick an example – but only at staggering cost and dislocation.

If you accept that war happens, and that sometimes those wars come to us against our national will, and that it’s better to win them than lose them, then some form of effort to gain intelligence about ones’ enemies’ intentions is one of those things that one trades for, among other things, casualties. And don’t kid yourself – intelligence-gathering has been an incredibly intrusive force in Americans’ lives in the pasts; FDR ordered his intelligence and counter-intelligence services to read every single piece of snail-mail, every telegraph, and eavesdrop on every single phone conversation entering and leaving the United States during WWII.

And like winning wars, staying a jump ahead of your enemies is an ugly, messy thing; it’s the sausage you really don’t want to see getting made. Like fighting crime – there’s a trade-off between liberty and effectiveness. A perfect police state might, hypothetically, be crime-free (at the cost of being, in essence, a criminal state itself); a pure libertarian state might be “Crime-free” in that, having no government, it recognizes no crime.

Say what you will about libertarian purism; if you stop short of anarchy, then defending your society from those who’d harm you is the most direct justification to have a government in the first place. It’s one of the few really good reasons to have a government; without defense (and courts to enforce contracts), really, what truly useful purpose do they serve that the private sector doesn’t do better?  If government can’t keep the people safe from foreign aggression, why have it in the first place?  Even libertarians that aren’t anarchists largely agree on this, right?

If you think you prevent airplans from crashing into skyscrapers, or underwear bombers from blowing your kids out of the sky as they come home from London, happens by just squirting good-will at the world, you are completely nuts. 

But Wait – Rand Paul Is Also Right! – But then you’re also nuts if you believe that government doesn’t take a mile for every inch you give it, or that “Defending the Nation” is a static, unchanging thing. 

All of you national-security hawks who say “The FISA Courts, into which was have no visibiliity and into which there is exceptionally limited oversight, are ample protection of due process for Americans” have apparently forgotten the IRS scandal.  Or Fast and Furious.  Or the trampling of the Fourth Amendment, or the growing militarization of the police. 

In short, law and order conservatives who are pollyannaish about government are no less addled than those who are pollyannaish about the role of unilateral good-will in keeping the world at peace. 

“We’re from the government and we’re here to help” is no less a joke coming from the NSA than it is from the Fish and Wildlife Service.   Just as liberals would suspend the Bill of Rights to cut CO2 emissions, some conservatives – especially the ones that are comfortable with “the System”, and there is nobody who can grow more comfortable with “The System” than a federal prosecutor like Christie – are perfectly fine saying “would you trade the Fourth Amendment for getting that drug dealer out of your neighborhood?”

As to defense?  The libertarians are wrong, we need a strong one.  But the definition of “a strong defense” changes, and changes radically, over time.  Is it the right time to engage the American military in an endless counterinsurgency that might be better suited to intelligence and proxies to carry out (uh oh, now the Libertarians and Liberals will get upset) when the Russians and the Chicoms are taking the world in a much more convention direction again?

The point being that re-assessing what the nation’s strategy actually is, and how the military forwards it, and what kind of military we need to do the job isn’t “anti-military”. 

Above all?  Due process needs to be more than just an inconvenient speed bump for the authorities – or what’s the point of pretending to be a “representative Republic” anyway?

Those Cows Left The Barn

I expect conservatives and libertarians to be exercised over the news that the White House is establishing a “Nudge Squad” – a group of behavioral scientists who will work with the government bureaucracy to try to help shape citizen behavior:

“Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals,” reads the government document describing the program, which goes on to call for applicants to apply for positions on the team.

The document was emailed by Maya Shankar, a White House senior adviser on social and behavioral sciences, to a university professor with the request that it be distributed to people interested in joining the team. The idea is that the team would “experiment” with various techniques, with the goal of tweaking behavior so people do everything from saving more for retirement to saving more in energy costs.

The document praises subtle policies to change behavior that have already been implemented in England, which already has a “Behavioral Insights Team.” One British policy concerns how to get late tax filers to pay up.

On the one hand, it all sounds very Orwellian.  And it is; using the government to shape peoples’ behavior is a short and utterly undefineable step away from using it to shape peoples’ thought.

On the other hand?  Precisely what has the public education system been since its inception?

Y’Know How You Know Western Civilization Is Collapsing?

Friday night, I was out with some friends out at a bar on Lake Street in Minneapolis.  I’d heard there was a thunderstorm warning – but I didn’t expect the deluge we got.  I think the wind got up to 60-70 miles an hour on Lake.  The power went out, and stayed out.  As I walked back to my car (unscathed, thank goodness, unlike a few cars up and down the street), I thought “this is gonna be a doozy”.

I started trying to find my way back to Saint Paul; I drove around South Minneapolis, checking out the extent of the damage and the power outage; the damage lessened the further east you went, but many roads were blocked; there were pockets of power up into the thirties, but for the most part Minneapolis was blacked out down to 46th, sometimes 50th and further.

Along about 10 o’clock, I wondered “what’s Saint Paul like?”  And for that matter the rest of the metro?

So I flipped to WCCO, expecting to hear their usual severe-storm-and-aftermath patter; Mike Lynch and a crew of newspeople talking about the storm, and taking calls from people around the metro with their observations.

LYNCH: “Tom in Prior Lake, go ahead”.

TOM IN PRIOR LAKE: “Ya, da wind come up and a maple tree about yea big fell down on da shed”

LYNCH: “How big?”

TOM IN PRIOR LAKE: “Yea big”

This is how WCCO has been doing weather since the earth’s crust cooled.

So I flipped the radio to 830 – no, it’s not a preset on my car.

And what did we get?

“Best of Mischke”.

Weather on the 20s.  I think.

And now the world has changed for the worse.

A Night To Remember

SCENE:  It’s May of 1912 – a few weeks after the sinking of the SS Titanic captured the world’s headlines.  Scene fades in on the SS Metaphoric – a steamship billed as “The Next Best Thing To The Titanic!” – plowing through the icy North Atlantic.  It’s a dark, chilly evening, with the light from a few stars illuminating the occasional glint of ice on the horizon. 

CUT TO the First Class passenger lounge.  A group of passengers – Garth Muller, Ludwig von Nicholaus, Joe Smith and Otto Klarinette – are drinking and discussing the affairs of the day.

CUT TO deck.  Zoom in to crow’s nest, where the lookout, a plucky cockney named Tim Shaw, reacts with alarm to an oncoming apparition.  He picks up a phone.

SHAW:  ”Iceberg!  Right ahead!

CUT TO Bridge.  Captain O. B. Barry, who was appointed Captain five years earlier after serving on cruise line’s board of directors for two years, picks up the phone. 

BARRY: Let me be clear.  It’s OK.  We’re too big to sink.  And we inherited our charts from the previous captain!

SCENE:  Ship plows into iceberg.  Montage of scenes of flooding below decks.  

VON NICHOLAUS:  What was that?

BARTENDER:  I think we hit an iceberg, sir.

MULLER:  Haw haw haw!  Time to cash it in!  This boat’s gonna sink!  We’re all doomed!

SMITH:  Um, hang on, guys; this room is crawling with wood tables, veneer, kegs, things that we can make float.  There’s a spool of rope on the deck outside…

VON NICHOLAUS:  Nope!  It’s gonna sink!

KLARINETTE:  Of course, since the cruise line is a corporation, falsely given a human-like existence to protect the banksters, nobody will be held responsible for it!

MULLER:  Who cares!  We’re going down!  Bartender, pour me another one!  Everyone’s gonna die!

VON NICHOLAUS:  It’s like we were taught back in Vienna…

SMITH hauls empty tables out to promenade deck outside, slashes rope into 12 foot lengths and starts lashing tables together.  BARTENDER starts frantically opening the beer taps, letting beer and soft drink kegs empty into the drains.  

KLARINETTE: they’re calling “women and children first!”

MULLER: Pfft.  The way this line was run, they’re better off dead anyway

SMITH and BARTENDER wrestle empty beverage kegs into place and lash them below te tables, effecting a crude but effective floatation device. 

VON NICHOLAUS:  If only the cruise line board of directors had listened to us!

KLARINETTE: We warned them!

VON NICHOLAUS: At the 1908 Cruise Line board meeting!   “Don’t ram icebergs!”, we said.  And they shouted us down!

MULLER: Well, this’ll show them!

VON NICHOLAUS:  all these sheeple have it coming!  They could have supported us.   They deserve what they get!

SMITH and the BARTENDER attach a rope rail around the upturned table legs.  SHAW moves a small kitchen grill onto the raft, and starts cooking hot hogs.   The BAND starts playing “Nearer My God To Thee”. 

KLARINETTE:  (Watching crowds racing for lifeboat) Stupid short-sighted sheeple.

SMITH and the BARTENDER start waving women and children aboard the the raft.  As the water laps up to the edge of the raft, they beckon the band aboard.  They start playing “We Are The Champions”  

SMITH: (as water floats the raft and starts to flow into the bar) Guys! Raft!

MULLER: Haven’t you heard? The ship is sinking. Belly up, the worlds come to and end!

VON NICHOLAUS: we’re all gonna die.

KLARINETTE: because the sheeple didn’t listen to us.

MULLER:  we’ve all for it coming.

SMITH: No, listen – the raft.  It floats!

VON NICHOLAUS:   What?  When I could be on a ship?

CAPTAIN BARRY (over the loudspeaker): Remember; it’s the previous captain’s fault, and you didn’t build or launch those lifeboats.

(Raft crowded with passengers  floats free and paddles over to lifeboats as ship slips beneath the waves.)

VON NICHOLAUS: Stupid sheeple! We told you so!

(And SCENE)