Monthly Archives: May 2011

Gov. Johnson Takes on Hannity

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary “Veto” Johnson made a recent appearance on Hannity last week (see video below). I have to say I was pleasantly surprised both with how Sean Hannity conducted the interview and how Gov. Johnson responded. I haven’t really watched Hannity since before the “& Colmes” was dropped a few years ago; from what I remembered he didn’t normally allow guests he disagreed with explain their position (especially on topics like drug legalization). I was also happy that he gave Gov. Johnson 20 plus minutes of some very valuable air time on a program widely watched by Republican primary voters. There’s just no way Gov. Johnson will ever be given that much time in a primary debate.

For Gov. Johnson’s part, I thought he communicated his message very skillfully. His cost/benefit approach that he is campaigning on, especially on issues that the G.O.P base generally disagree (ex: non-intervention and drug legalization/harm reduction) will be helpful in advancing libertarian positions in the long run (much as Ron Paul did in 2008 and since). When Hannity finally broached the war on (some) drugs, Johnson was able to get Hannity to concede that marijuana ought to be considered in a different category from harder drugs (i.e. heroin, crack, etc.). This in of itself is very encouraging.

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Ad Populum

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” – Barry Goldwater

Ron Paul’s supporters and detractors would probably agree that many of his positions are out of the main stream of modern political thought. By definition, this makes Ron Paul and those of like mind extremists.

Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones has put together a list of what he considers “Ron Paul’s 15 Most Extreme Positions.” Among these “extreme” positions are “eviscerate entitlements” (such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), eliminating entire departments (ex: Education, Health and Human Services, Energy, etc.), “enable state extremism” (allow the states to determine issues like gay marriage and school prayer rather than address these issues at the federal level), end the war on (some) drugs, and Ron Paul’s statements against the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Josh Harkinson lists these positions and calls them “extreme” but does not make any arguments against these positions because these positions are already unpopular in his estimation (and indeed, many of these positions are unpopular). Harkinson, either consciously or not has resorted to what is referred to as the Ad Populum fallacy, otherwise known as “appeal to popularity.”

Ad Populum fallacy works like this:

1. Most people approve of X
2. Therefore, X is true

By calling someone an extremist or calling his/her positions extreme is at least a variation of this fallacy: “Most people disagree with Ron Paul on entitlements, therefore; Ron Paul is wrong.”

To be sure, most of the items on the list of 15 that I fully agree with, others that raise my eyebrows (ex: I haven’t investigated number 4 yet) and others that I disagree with* but whether or not each is an extreme has nothing to do with if I agree or not. Whether a position on an issue is extreme or not is entirely beside the point! Rather than calling a position extreme, it should be debated on its merits or lack thereof.

Popular opinion, especially in American politics, is a very fickle thing. Consider how much attitudes have changed over the history of the U.S. It was once considered perfectly okay for one human being to own another. To call for the abolition of slavery in one era was considered extreme, in another controversial, in yet another popular. Any person who would say today that the institution of slavery should be resurrected would now be called an extremist (among other things).

What does this change in popularity concerning slavery tell us about the morality of slavery? Was it a moral institution because it was accepted as part of the culture and perfectly legal but now immoral because most would say that slavery is one of the great shames in our nation’s history?

Of course not.

Slavery was as immoral when Thomas Jefferson owned slaves as it would be today. Popularity has no bearing on questions of right and wrong.

Obviously, there are many more examples of how popular opinion has shifted over time. These positions of Ron Paul’s that Josh Harkinson calls extreme today could become controversial (i.e. having nearly as much support as those who are opposed) or even mainstream in the future. This is likely a great fear of Harkinson and those of his ilk as it’s much easier to call Ron Paul, libertarians, or libertarian positions extreme than it is to confront them directly.

Yes, Ron Paul is an extremist but he is in some very good company. We can safely say that the founding fathers – the original tea partyers were the extremists of their day. They certainly couldn’t be described as mainstream. The words penned by Thomas Paine in Common Sense and later Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence were downright treasonous!

“You’re an extremist!”

My response: “Yeah, so? What’s your point?”

Actually, I consider being called an extremist a badge of honor; so much so that I have put a bumper sticker on my vehicle declaring myself as such (I bought the sticker below from LibertyStickers.com).

The day my views become mainstream will be the day I have to seriously reevaluate my views because I doubt they will be mainstream any time soon. But even though my views or those who promote them don’t win very often on Election Day doesn’t make my views wrong…just unpopular.

Hat Tip: The Agitator
» Read more

Quote Of The Day

Very, very important:

When I hear communitarians like Etzioni describe the libertarian view of individualism, I wonder if they’ve ever read any libertarian writing other than a Classic Comics edition of Ayn Rand.

There’s no conflict between individualism and community. There’s a conflict between voluntary association and coerced association. And communitarians dance around that conflict.

H/T: David Boaz @ Cato

I think it’s a very important point. People assume that because libertarians object to many government programs centered around helping people in need, that we don’t care about helping people in need. That’s not true at all; many of us simply prefer to do it through voluntary charity that might show results. We resent being told that we must surrender our paycheck to government programs, designed around bad incentives, and that we’ll be locked in a cage if we refuse.

There’s no conflict between libertarianism and being a force for good in your community. Anyone who thinks otherwise takes Ayn Rand’s points on altruism FAR too seriously. I don’t think even Ayn Rand was against charity, she was against feeling guilty for achievement and against the idea that charity is OWED by the giver.

Gary Johnson to President Obama: “Time’s Up in Libya”

The “limited kinetic action” (don’t call it military force or war!) in Libya has reached the 60 day mark; the statutory time limit a president can use military force without congressional approval according to the War Powers Act of 1973. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot about the goings on in Libya in the news these days with Obama deciding what another sovereign nation (Israel) should do about its borders*.

Not everyone has completely forgotten about Libya though. Former New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Gary Johnson wrote an opinion piece today in The Daily Caller pointing out that the president’s authority to use kinetic action in Libya has expired today.

This blatant disregard for the law must not go unchallenged. As several senators did this week, Congress must demand an explanation for the fact that, with no declaration of war, no authorization from Congress, and certainly no imminent threat to the U.S., our forces are today engaged in what is clearly a military conflict halfway around the world in Libya.

Specifically, the War Powers Act requires that the use of American forces in a conflict must be ended within 60 days of commencing — unless Congress expressly authorizes otherwise. In terms of our current engagement in Libya, Congress hasn’t authorized anything, nor has the president asked them to, and today, May 20, is the 60th day.

[…]

[The War Powers Act] was carefully crafted to allow the commander-in-chief to respond to attacks and otherwise take whatever action necessary to protect us. At the same time, it was obviously crafted to limit precisely the kinds of ill-defined and costly uses of our military that we are witnessing in Libya right now.

[…]

To be fair, this president is certainly not the first to disregard the War Powers Act. Some have even questioned its constitutionality. But until the courts or Congress deem otherwise, it is the law of the land — and in my opinion, a good one.

This is yet another example of President Obama’s lack of respect for the rule of law when the law isn’t compatible with his policy.

Hope n’ Change you can believe in.

» Read more

Hugh Hewitt: RNC Should “Exile” Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, and Ron Paul from Future Debates

In reading Doug Mataconis’ recent post about pundits on the Right ignoring the presence of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson in the first presidential debate of the 2012 campaign and my subsequent listening and reading of many of the same pundits who have since mocked Ron Paul for daring to say such things as the war on (some) drugs has been a failure, I am reminded of the famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

It seems to me that the anti-liberty forces on the Right aren’t all at the same stage, however. Some want to ignore Ron Paul and Gary Johnson while others simply laugh at them. Conservative radio host and blogger Hugh Hewitt seems to have moved past the ignore and laughing stages and on to the fighting stage. How exactly does Hewitt wish to fight: by silencing what he calls the “marginal” candidates.

This is why the GOP needs to rethink its debate schedule and why the RNC should take over the operation of the debates and exile Cain, Johnson and Paul as well as every other candidate without a prayer of winning. (Santorum is a long shot, but he has a realistic though small chance of winning the nomination, while the others do not.) The seriousness of the fiscal crisis requires the GOP and its candidates to act seriously, and allowing marginal candidates to eat up time and distract from the enormous problems facing the country is not serious.

Apparently, it’s not enough for Hugh Hewitt that the Fox News moderators focused most of their serious* questions and attention toward “long shot” Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty. No, the very presence of Herman Cain, Ron Paul, and Gary Johnson distract from the “important” issues facing our country.

On electability
Marginal candidate Herman Cain placed second in a Zogby Poll that came out Tuesday, largely due to his performance in the debate that Hewitt says he had no business taking part.

Marginal candidate Rep. Ron Paul has won the CPAC presidential straw poll two years in a row. According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll, Paul trails Barack Obama in a head to head race by 7 percentage points while “serious” candidate and Hewitt favorite “Mandate Mitt” Romney trails Obama by 11.

Marginal candidate Gary Johnson, like Herman Cain, doesn’t have the name recognition (until recently maybe for Cain) that some of the top tier candidates have. This reason alone could explain why he hasn’t polled well so far. But as Johnson himself points out, when he ran for Governor of New Mexico in a state that votes 2-1 Democrat he didn’t have the name recognition either. He was told back then that could never win but Johnson got the last laugh when he beat the incumbent governor by 10 percentage points.

Cain, Paul, and Johnson may be long shots but I wouldn’t go as far to say they “don’t have a prayer” of winning the nomination. One advantage of being a long shot is they can say what they really think about the issues while the “contenders” have to be cautious – which leads me to my next point.

On “marginal candidates eat[ing] up time distract[ing] from the enormous problems facing the country”
Moderators and interviewers can only do so much to get straightforward answers from candidates. The top tier candidates should actually be grateful to have candidates like Cain, Paul, and Johnson in the primaries to challenge them. The eventual nominee will be battle tested for the general campaign since s/he has already had to offer alternative answers to challenging questions about taxation, entitlements, foreign policy, etc.

If Herman Cain says our government should replace the income tax with the Fair Tax, the other candidates have to explain why the income tax should remain in place or offer another alternative. If Ron Paul says that our government needs to stop policing the world and audit the Fed, the other candidates have to explain why our government should continue to police the world and continue to keep the activities of the Fed secret. If Gary Johnson argues that from a cost/benefit approach the war on (some) drugs has yielded much greater cost than benefit, the other candidates have to explain where Johnson is wrong in his analysis.**

Far from being a distraction from the important issues, Cain, Paul, and Johnson can focus the debate in such a way that would be otherwise not possible. Of course this assumes that the debate moderators give all the candidates a chance to respond.
Hewitt made one other point that needs to be challenged:

When the first tier of GOP candidates gather to discuss how to begin to fix the mess we are in, the voters deserve to hear the problems and the solutions fairly and fully talked through, and done without the interruption of the 1%ers with agendas unrelated to defeating President Obama in November, 2012.

Hugh, it’s still very early in this campaign, relax! Part of the reason that some of these candidates are 1%ers is because they lack name recognition (i.e. who are these people?). These 1%ers at least deserve a chance to introduce themselves to primary voters. Even as closely as I follow politics, there are quite a few names I’ve heard recently attached to individuals I know nothing about. Honestly, I know very little about the GOP field overall – at least those who didn’t run in 2008. I’m quite sure I am not alone.

And yes, the 1%ers probably have agendas besides defeating President Obama in 2012. If you want to be honest though, this is probably true for all the candidates. The more crowded the field, the more difficult it is for any candidate to win the nomination. A presidential primary is a perfect opportunity to speak about issues one cares about in a larger marketplace of ideas than normally possible. It’s not unusual for the eventual nominee to adopt some of the positions of his primary rivals in the general campaign (so in a sense, one’s issues are as important as winning the nomination…unless it’s only about ego).

But isn’t talking about having an agenda besides beating Obama in the general putting the cart before the horse just a little bit? I’m quite sure that if Cain, Paul, or Johnson actually won the nomination, beating Obama in 2012 would become the primary objective. They each have their own vision for this country.

The truth is, I think, you don’t want Cain, Paul, or Johnson in the debates because you are an establishment guy not because they are 1%ers. You don’t want to see any of these men in the debates because they are a threat to the status quo of the Republican Party (this is probably more true of Paul and Johnson than Cain though Cain would still be an outsider). I don’t believe for a minute that if any of these men became contenders you would suddenly welcome them in the debates.

It’s my hope that the RNC doesn’t take your advice seriously.

Disturbed Offers New Single Download to Support ‘West Memphis 3’

The heavy metal band Disturbed has stepped up in a big way to not only educate their fans of the miscarriage of justice that occurred in West Memphis, Arkansas in a new song entitled “3”, but also to give their fans an opportunity to help. Their new single is available for download only for $.99 ($1.03 after taxes); all proceeds for this single will go toward Damien Echols’ legal fees.

From Distrubed’s official website:

It all began May 5, 1993 when three eight-year-old boys were found mutilated and murdered in the Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, Arkansas. Under tremendous pressure to find the killer despite physical evidence pointing to anyone, West Memphis officers coerced an error-filled “confession” from a mentally handicapped teenager, Jessie Misskelley Jr., questioning him for hours without counsel or parental consent, only audio-taping two 46-minute fragments. Jessie recanted his statement the same night but it was too late: Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Misskelley all were arrested on June 3rd, and have been incarcerated ever since.

Local media said the murders were part of a satanic ritual; human sacrifices in the wooded areas of West Memphis, Arkansas. The police assured the public the three teenagers in custody were definitely responsible for these horrible crimes. There was no physical evidence, murder weapon, motive, or acquaintance with the victims so the State stooped to presenting Damien’s black hair and clothing, heavy metal t-shirts, and Stephen King novels as “proof” the children were sacrificed to the devil. In early 1994, Echols was sentenced to death by lethal injection, Baldwin received life without parole, while Misskelley got life plus 40 years.

[…]

With the steadfast support and financial help of their supporters, there is now factual, scientific evidence of their innocence. Damien, Jason and Jessie still must fight to gain their freedom but there are major differences now: the “satanic cult sacrifice” motive is now an embarrassment the prosecution doesn’t even embrace. More important, forensic technologies have progressed to the point where previously untested items yielded definitive results: Not one molecule of DNA from the crime scene matches that of Damien, Jason or Jessie. The DNA does match of a pair of individuals (one of them a victim’s stepfather) that were admittedly together on the day the children disappeared.

[…]

In November of 2010, the State Supreme Court of Arkansas finally ruled in the WM3’s favor for the first time, ordering new hearings wherein all post-conviction DNA, forensic evidence or testimony that could lead to their exoneration will be heard. Judge David Laser was assigned to be the judge of this evidentiary hearing which will begin on December 5, 2011.

While it’s true the WM3 can see the light at the end of this tunnel, they still desperately need your financial help. Judge Laser ordered all remaining DNA is to be tested and we must pay for it, as well as additional forensic investigations and legal work. Please visit wm3.org for more information on the case and make your tax-deductible donation to the defense fund.

The case of the West Memphis 3 is one of the most disturbing cases I’ve ever followed; this is a worthy cause. If you are unfamiliar with this case, in addition to visiting wm3.org, watch the HBO documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, the follow-up Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, and the 48 Hours Mystery episode “A Cry for Innocence.”In closing, here are the lyrics to the new Disturbed single entitled “3” below the fold. » Read more

Quote Of The Day

From a friend of Billy Beck, relayed on Facebook:

“Oil hearings: Government taxes account for 15% of gas price, company profits only 5%. Follow the dots: The government has 3x the incentive to keep prices high and engage in gouging and restrict further supply as the companies do.”

Wrong. Well, 90% wrong.

The bulk of taxes on gasoline are not charged as a percentage of purchase price, they’re charged as a flat excise cost per gallon. Some states (CA amongst them) also pack a sales tax on top of this, but that’s hardly the key to Congressional hearings, as the federal tax is PURELY a per-gallon tax.

If anything, the Feds actually have an incentive to keep the cost of gas as low as possible, so that Americans will use more of it, and thus pay more excise taxes on that gasoline. In addition, low gas prices help their chances of re-election.

I’ve got my reasons to call the feds hypocritical (they claim to be trying to help the “Average Joe”, but you don’t see them offering temporary reductions in gas taxes) on this issue, but they have no economic incentive to keep prices high. The political incentive is a balancing game between pissing off voters and pissing off environmentalists and NIMBYs, but it’s certainly not a tax revenue game they’re playing.

Quote Of The Day

Don Boudreaux from Cafe Hayek:

So it dawned on me. Infomercials are the closest phenomenon that the private-sector offers to politics. Fraudulent clowns, skilled at lying, promise gullible audiences something for nothing.

The difference, of course – and it makes all the difference – is that no one is forced to buy (either figuratively or literally) whatever it is the infomercial clowns are selling. And those of us who don’t buy these clowns’ offerings aren’t forced nevertheless to suffer the consequences of the fact that large numbers of our fellow citizens do consistently, even eagerly, fall for the idiotic claims and promises and assurances offered by these greedy imposters posing as our friends.

Yep. Nailed it.

Republicans Continue Dissing Libertarians, Then Want Us To Vote For Them

Brian Doherty notes that The Washington Examiner’s Byron York seems to have had a pair of ideological blinders on when he watched last night’s Republican debate:

Byron York, in the game of reporting about right-wing and Republican politics for a very long time, delivers a bravura performance of ignoring what’s in front of his own eyes with this nearly 2,000 word account of last night’s GOP debate that pretty much pretends Ron Paul and Gary Johnson weren’t even there.

York literally mentions that Paul was there–and never mentions yesterday’s million-dollar man again. Johnson gets cred for sprinting on the stage, where apparently from York’s account he then fell through a trap door and never added anything to the very, very fascinating set of fresh ideas delivered by those other three guys, I’ve forgotten their names.

Expect to have to see a lot more of this transparently pathetic pretending that Paul and Johnson don’t exist

York’s not alone. A listener to Rush Limbaugh’s show today would’ve been led to think that the only people at last night’s debate were Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, and Rick Santorum, because the great “El Rushbo” didn’t even talk about Johnson or Paul (yea, I know, I shouldn’t be listening). And a review of many of the prominent conservative blogs today shows either the same “memory holing” of Paul and Johnson, or coverage that consists of nothing but derision of them and their supporters.

To which I ask a simple question — if conservative Republicans want to convince libertarian-oriented folks to be allied with them, wouldn’t it be better to actually treat them and their ideas with respect? I’ve seen none of it, and I’m tempted to act accordingly.

Counterpoint: Democracy Doesn’t Mean Collective Responsibility

This is part of The Liberty Papers’ continued Point/Counterpoint feature. Specifically, this Counterpoint is the response to Jeff Molby’s post yesterday suggesting moral equivalency between Arabs cheering in the streets after 9/11 and Americans cheering Sunday night at the killing of Osama bin Laden.

————————————————

A lot of what Jeff said yesterday made sense. We have been intervening militarily in the Middle East for many decades. I’m not going to give a Rudy Giuliani response and act as if blowback doesn’t exist, nor that his charge that it’s a long line in the “Hatfield-McCoy” ongoing feud between cultures is incorrect. I’ve become a non-interventionist over the years not because I think other countries are behaving well in the world or to their own citizens, but rather because I don’t trust government to actually accomplish what they intend on the world stage.

In short, while I doubt that the long-term safety of Americans from terrorist acts is meaningful affected by the death of Osama bin Laden, I found myself filled with an internal cheer on Sunday night. I’ve never been the type to go jump up and down in a crowd over such things, but I had much of the same motivation in my heart that I believe they do. And I don’t consider the response to be rationalizing away a bad emotion — I believe the emotion is justified. Further, and to the point, I believe the emotion is justified in a way that those in the Middle East cheering after 9/11 cannot claim.

Jeff’s essay contains what I consider to be a fundamental error of collectivization, and it was on that basis only that I worked with him when he submitted his post to make it a Point/Counterpoint. The response is too much for the comments section.

It is never moral to cheer the deaths of innocent people. I think we can all stipulate that Osama bin Laden appears to have full guilt as the mastermind of Al Qaeda for perpetrating 9/11, and that anyone working to continue to keep him hidden in that compound was complicit in the guilt as well. We’re not talking about a collateral damage problem here.

So we’re left answering a question on which Jeff and I disagree:

So were the 9/11 victims innocent?

Lest anyone try to twist my words, let me be absolutely clear that the responsibility for the 9/11 attacks lies entirely with the perpetrators of those attacks. That does not make us innocent bystanders, though. We choose our representatives and give them a ton of money with which to do our bidding. We are responsible for the countless civilian deaths that our government has caused over the decades. You. Me. The 9/11 victims. Every American old enough to work and vote. It takes hundreds of millions people working together to great the largest killing machine the world has ever known. We did it together and most of us were proud of it every step of the way. Many of you are probably furious with me right now because you’re still proud of the weapon we’ve created.

The fact that America is a representative democracy does not make us all complicit in everything our government does. This is true for multiple reasons:

  1. Electoral party politics are a package deal. One cannot vote for a specific basket of political positions. One must pick and choose which are most important, and every-day domestic concerns will always drive decisions more than abstract foreign policy.
  2. Jeff mentions that the last President & Congress to NOT engage in foreign war was Hoover. It seems that the non-interventionist position was not exactly on the table.
  3. One can claim that the non-interventionist position WAS on the table. Yet George W Bush was voted in on a policy that he wasn’t interested in nation-building. Obama was voted in as an ALTERNATIVE to GWB — Hope and Change. Yet he’s doubled down in both Iraq and Afghanistan and embarked on a whole new war in Libya.
  4. The people who voted for the policies 20, 40, or 60 years ago are not the same voters today.
  5. Some of victims didn’t vote for the winners, they actually voted *for* the [losing] anti-war candidates, or their candidates won but were outvoted in Congress.

Democracy doesn’t mean that Americans are all the same, nor that we are all complicit in the guilt for a history of Hatfield-McCoyism. Some of those killed on 9/11 were undoubtedly in favor of the military-industrial complex. Many were not. Some were Americans who had voted for politicians embarking on those policies. Many had voted for the losers in each of those elections. Some of those killed on 9/11 were Americans. Many were not — meaning they had no ability to influence American foreign policy.

Americans cheering at the killing of Osama bin Laden were cheering for a specific, concrete act of retribution against someone who was a stated enemy of us as a collective [the Great Satan] and as individuals [infidels]. It would be the same as Muslims cheering at the killing of specific Americans who suggest that we should wipe Mecca off the map because Islam itself as a religion of death. Both are be acts against individuals who had proven their desire to kill high numbers of people.

But that’s the minority. Most Americans and most Muslims are peaceful people trying to make their way through the world, working towards a better life for themselves and their families. At the end of the day the questions aren’t really who to vote for, the questions are how to budget for college and get the kids braces, how to put food on the table and afford the rent or mortgage.

Americans know, for the most part, that they have almost zero control over their government, and act accordingly. While Jeff tries to paint the brush that “the government is us”, Americans have internalized that what “those guys in Washington” do is not exactly “us”. Muslims watch their governments (who they have much less control over than even Americans) oppress the people, and throw up their hands in despair while they try to live. They get tarred with the “Osama bin Laden is a Muslim, therefore all Muslims support terror” brush too often, and I don’t believe it’s much appreciated.

I’m not saying we’re the Bad Guys. I’m just saying we’re not the Good Guys either. We’re simply active participants in a Hatfield-McCoy-esque feud whose root cause is long since forgotten. We’re wrapped up in a nasty affair with enough blood to cover everyone’s hands.

American politicians and the leaders of the Muslim world are engaged in this feud. Regular Americans and Muslims are distant cousins who left the county decades ago and look upon those Hatfields and McCoys with opprobrium. The fact that these politicians were voted into office over the years doesn’t mean a majority of Americans support the specific foreign policy measures that made this a Hatfield/McCoy event, much as the rebels in Libya today are not responsible for Gadhafi’s terrorist attack on American interests 30 years ago. We even see today that there appears to be internal disagreement within Pakistan’s government (the civil government vs. the Pakistani military) over the hiding of bin Laden. It is quite possible that the military or ISI knew of his existence but was keeping it a secret from the rest of the government. Is all of Pakistan responsible for those internal interests that were working to hide Pakistan?

At the end of the day, Arabs who cheered the 9/11 attacks on the WTC were cheering against the deaths of individual innocent people who had no direct relationship to the long history of warfare and strife between the American government and governments/terrorist groups of the Middle East. Americans who cheered for the death of Osama bin Laden were cheering for retribution against someone who was directly involved in planning, funding, and organizing the event that killed innocent people.

To claim that representative democracy makes those situations morally equivalent is a false application of collectivism, and it deserves not to remain unchallenged.

Point: You Cheering In The Streets Is No Different Than When They Do It

The following is a continuation of The Liberty Papers’ “Point/Counterpoint” series. In this feature, two contributors (or, as in this case, a contributor and a guest) of semi-like mind debate a specific point of view. Today’s Point is provided by regular reader and commenter Jeff Molby, who wrote in response to a friend and offered to submit it here as well. Tomorrow Brad Warbiany will present a Counterpoint (now available here).

————————————————

After posting a Facebook link to this article which disapproves of the American jubilation in response to the news of Osama’s death, a friend of mine made the following comment:

“There is a BIG difference between groups cheering when innocent Americans have been killed and cheering when the person responsible for killing those same innocent Americans has been killed.”

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I don’t condone any of the violent acts by either side. I condemn our efforts to install and arm puppet governments. I condemn the terrorist attacks. Both have been going on so long that I don’t even give a damn which one “started it”. Like a couple of pissed-off five year-olds, you either have to send them both to their rooms or step back and let them duke it out.

Personally, I think we’re way overdue for some de-escalation. I understand that many others think we need to do just the opposite, but for the purposes of this conversation, we can just agree to disagree on that point.

My only point in all of this is that this is an old, nasty conflict and there’s a ton of blood on everybody’s hands. It’s been many decades since we’ve had any sort of moral high ground when it comes to our involvement in the Middle East. 9/11 could have changed that if we had responded magnanimously, but instead we resorted with the same base reactions that we condemn our enemies for.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t acknowledged that the civilians killed in the towers were “innocent” and therefore different. In a way, they were. In a way, they weren’t. You can call them innocent because most of them never touched a gun in their lives and wished no harm on anyone. At the same time, though, our government has done much harm in our name and here is the double-edged sword of democracy: we elect our government and we are responsible for its actions.

Do you know who was the last President that didn’t engage in overseas warfare? Hoover. The last 13 Presidents and 44 Congresses — with every permutation of Republicans and Democrats you can imagine — have all steadily cultivated the military-industrial complex that has shed the blood of innumerable innocent individuals that we blithely refer to as “collateral damage”.

At every step, we rationalize it. It’s easy to do and we have to do it; we’d be unable to consider ourselves human if we didn’t. “We do our best to minimize ‘collateral damage’, but it’s impossible to avoid it completely and we have to kill them before they kill us.”

It sounds good and logical until you confront the fact that our enemies use the same rationalizations. They look to their lost fathers and mothers and seek vengeance just as we do. They look upon the deaths of enemy non-combatants with the same feelings of righteous self-defense and inevitability. They feel they have to kill us to protect themselves.

And so we swim in the bloodiest of whirlpools.

So were the 9/11 victims innocent?

Lest anyone try to twist my words, let me be absolutely clear that the responsibility for the 9/11 attacks lies entirely with the perpetrators of those attacks. That does not make us innocent bystanders, though. We choose our representatives and give them a ton of money with which to do our bidding. We are responsible for the countless civilian deaths that our government has caused over the decades. You. Me. The 9/11 victims. Every American old enough to work and vote. It takes hundreds of millions people working together to great the largest killing machine the world has ever known. We did it together and most of us were proud of it every step of the way. Many of you are probably furious with me right now because you’re still proud of the weapon we’ve created.

I’m not saying we’re the Bad Guys. I’m just saying we’re not the Good Guys either. We’re simply active participants in a Hatfield-McCoy-esque feud whose root cause is long since forgotten. We’re wrapped up in a nasty affair with enough blood to cover everyone’s hands.

As I said earlier, I think it’s past time for the violence to come down, so I can’t share in the celebration of another death. For those of you that disagree, I understand your viewpoint and I won’t begrudge you your victory celebration. I just want you to realize that it’s no different from the celebrations your enemies hold when they win a battle.

What A Day!

Well, the son of a bitch is dead. And I’m extremely happy for it.

A lot of time is going to be spent on the psychology of this one. I don’t recall anywhere near this level of joy (in myself or in Americans generally) when Saddam was captured & executed. Nor even when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured, even though he had a direct role in 9/11. This one has a symbolism beyond anything I can remember in my life. And perhaps it’s an oddly American idea that I’m going to quote a cartoonist to explain it:

This is the first time that another person’s death has made me happy. When the Iraqis executed Sadam Hussein, it was simple justice. When drones kill lesser terrorist leaders, I’m pleased at the result, not the loss of life. Bin Laden was different. Like many of you, I was watching television on the morning of September 11th, 2001 when the second plane hit the second tower. This time it was personal. For me, Bin Laden’s death is deeply satisfying.

Scott Adams is right… This was personal. It’s hard to describe entirely why that is — especially for those of us who internalize individualism — but there’s something to be said to the 9/12 response “We are all New Yorkers”. Bin Laden wasn’t targeting “America” in the abstract, or direct military/diplomatic assets like the USS Cole or a embassy somewhere. He was targeting “Americans” — he was targeting us.

I try to avoid the term “us” very often politically, as it usually implies a bond that does not actually exist — but 9/11 was different. Bin Laden would have been as happy to have me, or you, or anyone else in the towers or on those planes as the unfortunate folks who happened to be there. When someone is targeting civilians rather than soldiers, it’s obvious that the reason that any of us are alive after 9/11 is that we didn’t happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, not that we weren’t included in that list of targets. Nothing about me in particular is either more or less “evil” than those who lost their lives that day. Individualist or not, he was targeting you and I.

I suspect that this was similar to the jubilations of Iraqi crowds pulling down the statue of Saddam after the invasion. For them, the oppression Saddam had foisted on their friends, neighbors, and family was personal. I’m sure there was the sense that “it can happen to anyone at any time” during his reign, and when that cap popped, aiming directly at the immediate representation of Saddam in statue form was deeply gratifying to those involved.

Politically, this doesn’t change my position on interventionism. It doesn’t mean that everything America’s done for the last decade in the middle east is worth it. We can have all those discussions, but not right now.

Today, that bastard is dead. And I’m going to enjoy it.