Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Russia’s Ruble Problem is Temporary… And not Just THEIR Problem

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Russia’s been in something of a spot of bother lately. The decision by OPEC to continue elevated levels of oil production (in order to deliberately suppress oil prices, and drive higher production cost competitors out of the market), in addition to American sanctions, have caused the Russian ruble to plummet against the American dollar. Steps taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Central Bank of Russia to halt this decline have not been effective, causing Putin to call what’s happening a “catastrophe”.

These reduced oil prices of course have many benefits to the US, beyond schadenfreude at Russias predicament. Fuel prices are the lowest they’ve been in almost ten years; which has had a positive effect on consumer prices overall, travel, and holiday spending during retail’s heaviest season.

So with prices at the pump going lower, and Putin struggling, everything’s all good, right??

Not really.

Here are a few reasons why we should be concerned at what’s happening right now:

* There’s a lot of arm-twisting going on both inside and outside OPEC – What’s really happening, is Saudi Arabia is effectively in a staring contest with weaker members of OPEC, and no one has the strength to end the standoff. These low prices are harming oil producers everywhere. The price can only be so low, for so long, before there’s so much pressure (both internally, and from other oil producing nations); that the Saudis will cut production, and allow the price of oil to rise.

* We’re due for an energy market correction – As I said above, this action isn’t just hurting Russia. It’s hurting Venezuela, Mexico, Norway, and all other oil-exporting countries, and it’s not sustainable. Speculation, aggregate demand increases, and softening of the Saudi position, are likely to bring the price back up within a few months, which benefits Russia in the long term.

* Vladimir Putin’s support is, and will remain, solid – Breathless articles in the Western press about Putin’s “challenge” possibly leading to his downfall are vastly overblown at best. For one, Putin knows who his key allies are, and they – the oligarchs in Russia – will be taken care of first. Furthermore, he is virtually synonymous with the once again powerful Orthodox Church, and his domestic policies (which basically amount to keeping the buses running on time and eradicating homosexuals) are still extremely popular. If push comes to shove, the Russian people will stick with him; partly because he’s their best chance against the west (and more importantly, China), and partly because if they do protest, they stand a good chance of not making it home (Putin’s history is clear in this). It’s just as well, because…

* There are no legitimate alternatives to Putin – Simply put, Russia’s liberals (and in fact all political factions other than Putin, and those even more hardline) are broken; either irrelevant and ineffectual, or small, hardcore sects, that hold little appeal for a nation that still remembers bread lines. Financial transparency? Human rights? These are things which, in the mind of a hardened nation, don’t pay the bills; and in the opinion of many Russians, may not be desirable, as they would benefit currently disfavored people (such as gays, and those of religions other than Russian Orthodox).

* When you poke the bear… – Russia has shown that they will act with violence when it suits their desires; ask Georgia, Chechnya and the Ukraine about that… if they can pick their heads up long enough to speak. I’m not entirely sure we want to see the Russians become desperate, or feel truly threatened, economically or politically. At best, many lives may be lost or destroyed in small scale conflict, and the disruption of that inevitably comes with it. At worst we could see war with Russia and “the west” (under whatever pretext or theater in which it may begin); perhaps including support from China, splinter eastern Europeans, “enemy-of-my-enemy” Islamic groups; and governments around the world, who would have to pick a side in a war between the United States, and “anyone other than the United States”.

That’s a wild scenario, but not wild enough to be completely discounted.

In the end, I predict that Russia will ride this out, and wait for mutual interests in the oil industry to start wearing down the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. There could be some retaliation, leading some to guess at a second Cold War. However, ultimately, Russia doesn’t have sufficient economic clout to meaningfully damage the United States and its allies, without also causing greater damage to themselves.

Enjoy the gas prices (and laughing at Putin) for now, but understand that, most likely; prices (and the ruble) will swing back closer to their recent medians, by the end of February (March at the latest), with little or no long-term damage to Putin.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Normalizing Relations with Cuba is Long Overdue

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Today, the White House announced that they were looking to thaw relations with Cuba for the first time since President John F. Kennedy severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in January of 1961, which preceded the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion that following April. In their statement, the White House noted that fifty years of sanctions and other actions against Cuba have failed to achieve their stated means. This seems to be inarguable; ever since those severed ties, the relationship between the United States and Cuba has been highly antagonistic, with America using its financial and political clout to install strict financial sanctions against them, largely punishing them for adopting a communist government and aligning with the Soviet Union until the latter’s dissolution.

Under the terms laid out simultaneously by the White House and Cuban President Raul Castro, US residents could travel to Cuba for tourism, and Cuba would be allowed to accept United States credit cards. President Obama has also requested Secretary of State John Kerry to begin a review of Cuba’s standing on the list State Sponsor(s) of Terrorism, and some prisoners – most notably American Alan Gross – have been exchanged.

Of course, everything is not as cut and dried as Obama simply waiving his hands and saying “make it so”. For one, most Cuban sanctions are codified in American law, per Doug Mataconis. The number one opponent is going to be Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), whose views echo those of many Cuban exiles and their family members who refuse to deal with Cuba so long as the Castro brothers are in power. Combined with Congress’s total inability to get anything done of note, there is going to be resistance before relations can be formally normalized.1 Naturally, when diplomacy is on the table, there is also a contingent of Americans – the hawks – that are not satisfied unless we’re blowing someone up.

Frankly, it’s well past time for us to normalize relations with Cuba. We had better relations with Russia – the number one antagonist in the Cold War – for a time than we did with Cuba, and all because of… what? The Cuban Missile Crisis, which we instigated with the Bay of Pigs invasion? Punishment for dealing with the Soviet Union back in the early 60s? Some assassination attempts against Presidents, by a country that we invaded? That stupid picture of noted murderer and tyrant Che Guevara being printed on T-shirts and postcards? Actually, that might be a really good reason after all…

Don’t mistake this for altruism. The intention here is definitely to line the pockets of private industry as the mandate’s stated goals of increasing internet penetration and American tourism start to take seed. There’s also the view that ending the embargo will hurt Raul and Fidel Castro as people start to realize the magic of capitalism, a view that seems to be shared by Hillary Clinton. Lastly, our request for Cuba to improve their human rights record is pretty funny, contextually speaking. But even if it’s bad for Cuba’s leaders, opening up relations with Cuba is not only the best thing for Cuba’s people, it’s the best thing for America, as well. We not only get a fertile ground for business dealings – a problem only for hard-core communists and socialists – but we look much better to the United Nations, now that it’s not just us and Israel holding out.

Ultimately, the end of the embargo, and the surety of the overall improvement to both the Cuban economy and the quality of life of its people, will prove one key point: America, and capitalism, won the Cold War, and it was a rout. The Soviet Union’s been dead for over twenty years, replaced by a plutocracy. Cuba will fundamentally change after holding out for decades purely out of spite. And other countries such as China are communist in name only. If the Cold War was a fight between American capitalism and communism, it’s over, and it was a slaughter.

1 – I would not be surprised if a Republican controlled Congress put the brakes on this for at least two years so as not to give Obama credit.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Will The GOP Congress Return To Bush-Era Foreign Policy Interventionism?

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With the election of the new Republican Congress in last week’s midterms, there are some questions about what policy directions the new Congress will try to take. Much of this is because the GOP didn’t really run on anything except “Obama sucks.”

The Republican Party has been debating foreign policy with less interventionist Republicans like Rand Paul clashing with more hawkish Republicans like John McCain.

This week, I asked the contributors whether or not the GOP will return to its Bush-era hawkish days or not?

Christopher Bowen:

In the big battle between the old-school Republicans and the new-style Tea Party types, the arguement in most circles has centred around economics; really, it’s centred around the Affordable Care Act. There have been other battles, but ground zero has been spending. It’s that focus on those larger battles that have enabled the latter group to enable sweeping social conservative legislation despite the fact that much of that legislation goes against their “liberty” strain of political thought.

It’s with that small sample size of history that I prognosticate what the future holds: if you are a liberty minded person who does not want perpetual war, the next two years are bad news.

It should be noted that of all the things most Republicans hated about Obama, the one thing many agreed with was when he decided to take actions against Libya and the Islamic State. Likewise, many of the conservative lawmakers who have made token rejections of the cavalier way Obama has gone about implementing these wars said nothing about George W. Bush when he did largely the same thing, with some even cheering him on.

To put it simply, war is a divisive subject in both parties, with the far-left liberals also clashing with establishment Democrats.

In the end, war will be something that conservatives latch onto because it will create jobs – a huge selling point to a new, conservative Congress as they prepare for the 2016 election against the Democrat’s biggest hawk, Hillary Clinton – and increase patriotism, which is always a go-getter for the GOP. The dissenters will either be silenced or made irrelevant by feckless Democrats too scared of their own shadows to reject the war drums, and everything that brought us to Iraq the second time will continue to keep us there the third. Those who don’t want to go to war will be labeled anti-American, wanting to help the enemy by forfeiting American jobs. Meanwhile, existing fears about Muslims – largely based off of a few cartoon-like caricatures that would make Boris Badenov blush – will be stoked, as the scary man with the gun in the turban will continue to supplant the scary man with the gun in the ushanka, which long ago supplanted the scary man with the gun and the Tojo glasses as our Common Enemy Who Must Be Destroyed. We have always been at war with Islam, comrade.

“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship(…) the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” – Hermann Goering, Nuremberg Diaries

Chris Byrne:

Simple answer? No… except rhetorically… just as they have been for years.

What exact role does congress have in the use of the military other than funding it (or not), disapproving of it (or not), and bloviating about it? Or in foreign policy as a whole? It seems that their approval or disapproval are largely irrelevant at this point anyway… and have been for some time.

Ask me again in two years when the president is a Republican.

Doug Mataconis:

I would submit that the premise of the Roundtable is somewhat flawed, because there is no real evidence that the Republican Party in general, or Republicans at the House and Senate level specifically, have ever really retreated from the “Bush-era foreign policy.” Yes, there are some examples one can point to in both chambers of Congress who have spoken out against an interventionist foreign policy over the the past five years of the Obama Administration. Senator Rand Paul, and Members of Congress such as Justin Amash and Walter Jones come to mind most immediately in that regard, and of course Congressman Ron Paul continued to adhere to his non-interventionist rhetoric until he retired at the end of the 112th Congress. For the most part, though, the GOP Caucuses in both bodies as a whole, have taken the same positions on foreign policy issues that they have in the past.

What we have seen over these past five years isn’t so much evidence of the GOP reconsidering the interventionist foreign policy that defined it during the Bush years as opportunistic criticism of the Obama Administration for pursuing policies that were actually logical extensions of politics previously advocated by Republicans. In some cases, such as the 2011 intervention in Libya, that criticism took the form of opposition to the in retrospect limited U.S. involvement in the aid provided to rebels in Libya’s civil war. In others, such as the Obama Administration’s policies in Syria, Republicans have been downright schizophrenic. After spending two years criticizing the President for not doing enough to aid the anti-Assad rebels in Syria, Republicans on Capitol Hill went with the winds of public opinion, which was decidedly anti-war, and opposed President Obama when he was threatening to take action over the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Now, in connection with actions against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Republicans seems to speaking out of both sides of their mouth; criticizing the Administration for acting at all while at the same time saying that he isn’t doing enough and, in the end, inviting a terrorist attack on the United States. Above it all, though, is the fact that the majority voice in the Republican Party remains one that supports interventionism, continues to think that the 2003 Iraq War as a good idea, considers the only acceptable foreign policy in the Middle East one that blindly supports Israel, and denounces any attempt to cut the defense budget as “retreat.”

There are, as I’ve said, some exceptions to this general rule, such as Rand Paul. Paul, however, remains a minority voice in his party on foreign policy and there are already indications that if he runs for President in 2016 he will be targeted by many forces inside the GOP based on his foreign policy views. We’ve already seen such attacks from the likes of John Bolton, Dick Cheney, Congressman Peter King, and conservative pundits such as Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post and pretty much everyone who writes at Commentary. One can hope that a Paul candidacy would lead to a real debate on these issues but it’s just as likely that Senator Paul’s efforts to raise these issues will end up being drown in a sea of denunciations of him as a “isolationist.”

So, no, the GOP won’t return to its interventionist ways. But that’s because it never really left that path.

Sarah Baker:

For three reasons, I am optimistic that we will not see a renewed focus on hawkish foreign interventions in the near future.

First, even among people who originally supported the Iraq war, many now believe it was a mistake. Whether they say so publicly or not, deep down in their hawkish hearts, they understand that invasion led inevitably to being forced to choose between two unpalatable options: maintaining a heightened presence for years to come or allowing the place to descend into chaos.

The lessons for Syria could not be more obvious.

Second, we are broke. This country is trillions of dollars in debt. A significant portion of that debt reflects spending during the Bush years. This includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a combined price tag, by some estimates, as high as $6 trillion. Even the most hawkish of the hawks must see that we cannot continue to allow this sort of debt to burden our descendants for generations to come.

Third, the world has been fundamentally changed by the globalization of Internet news and the advent of social media. When people die in drone strikes, for example, we can watch interviews with their grieving survivors within days—or even hours—of the strike. For the first time in history, ordinary Americans can exchange messages in real time with ISIS fighters.

We cannot know all of the ways in which these interactions will change the world. But surely they will not make it easier for us to kill one another.

Matthew Souders:

I believe that a GOP-controlled legislature will take some actions internationally, particularly against ISIS, and that libertarians will scream bloody murder about it, but I believe it will be wrong to be so aggrieved. This notion that non-intervention is the savior of US foreign policy that lurks at the heart of the libertarian party is the reason that many Republicans have not become libertarian and the primary reason libertarians still do not field competitive candidates for office.

In the real world, the US is the only superpower with enough influence to have a positive impact on world security. In the real world, the relative success of the EU would be impossible without the US playing an active role internationally. In the real world, ISIS demands a response, lest it embolden every radical or crazy person to join the fight at home or abroad. But in the eyes of many in libertarian ranks, the US would be secure if only we didn’t get involved.

We just passed the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy cannot possibly be described as anything other than a roaring success on the merits – this, the most interventionist president we’ve ever had. Obviously, the same sort of aggression cannot work against a non-centralized power like Islamic Extremism the way it worked against the USSR. It requires a different set of answers and a different general posture. But to ask Congress – who have heard the American People demand action against ISIS – to take no action on the assumption that any action we take must only make matters worse is folly. And the price we will pay if we go down that road will be worse than the price we paid for ignoring Islamic Extremism in the 90s.

None of which is to say that I expect or desire a full-scale war in ISIS-held territory. I believe in the oldest of international doctrines – that we should speak softly, but carry a big stick. That our use of force should be commensurate to the need. That we should not be fooled into believing that it is possible to construct a freedom-loving nation out of people who have never known or expected freedom. But when the cries of people brutalized by a savage group of radicals bent on restoring the Islamic Caliphate go up, and America does not respond – then the world as we know it is surely in the gravest danger.

Stephen Littau:

I have to admit that when I cast my vote for Cory Gardner in order to fire Mark Udall (in hopes of making Harry Reid the Sen. Minority Leader), the notion that the GOP would be so stupid as to return to the Bush era foreign policy never really entered my mind. Sure, I know there are still a few hawks in the GOP who have never met a war (or are we calling them “kinetic actions” now?) they didn’t want to start but I thought that by now the majority had learned the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

I’m holding out hope that the Senate, under new leadership, will have other priorities which passed through the House but never saw the light of day thanks to Reid. Priorities such as auditing the FED, passing a damned budget, passing the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act (REDEEM Act), and the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR Act) should at the very least have an up or down vote. There’s now simply no acceptable excuse for not getting this done.

This is why I decided, perhaps against my better judgement, to vote in favor of a GOP Senate Majority. I certainly didn’t vote in favor of the idea of more boots on the ground in the Middle East. Whose vision will the GOP lead congress follow, that of Rand Paul or that of John McCain? If its the latter, control of the legislative branch will be very short lived and deservedly so.

Kevin Boyd:

Put me down in the “don’t know” category. Sure more hawkish politicians in the GOP won big such as Tom Cotton and Jodi Ernst, but there has been a growing anti-war right as the bills from Iraq and Afghanistan have come due. Conservatives are asking was it worth it to pay so much to achieve so little.

I think we’ll see where the party is going on foreign policy, if a Republican is elected president. However, it appears that every presidential race will be settled in the Democratic primary from 2016 on as Democrats can already count on having 270 or close to 270 electoral votes before the first vote is cast.

So we may never know that answer.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Here’s A Crowdfunding Idea, A Volunteer Brigade To Fight ISIS

Crowdfunding through sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe has made everything from business startups to trips a reality for many that otherwise would not have been. The beauty of crowdfunding campaigns is that it provides a way for people to leverage their social media networks and real life friends to collect and pool together small contributions into a large sum of money for a purpose. Crowdfunding also builds grassroots support for projects, big and small.

If crowdfunding can be used to launch a business or a documentary, can it be used to recruit and fund an all volunteer brigade to fight ISIS? Best-selling sci-fi author and U.S. Army veteran John Ringo seems to think so. On Friday, he posted a status update on his Facebook wall that he was considering such a concept:

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As Ringo points out, members of Dutch and German biker gangs are fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Syria against the jihadist scourge that is ISIS. A couple of Americans have already volunteered to fight alongside the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia. However, there’s nothing on the scale that Ringo* is envisioning. Ringo is envisioning something like a non-Communist version of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of American volunteers who fought for the Communist-aligned Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s.

As for the legal issues, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has warned against volunteers joining the Syrian Kurds due to the YPG’s ties to the PKK, which is a Turkish Kurd political party on the terrorist lists of both the United States and the European Union. The U.S. State Department advises that serving in a foreign military is not grounds for loss of citizenship on its own. However, if that foreign military is facing combat against U.S. forces, that could be grounds for loss of citizenship.  A possible grey area is that U.S. law appears to state that serving as a commissioned officer or non-commissioned officer in a foreign military could be grounds for loss of U.S. citizenship. It’s important to note that I could not find any attempts at prosecuting members and commanders of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade or attempting to strip them of citizenship for their role in the Spanish Civil War.

Similiar legal issues were raised over the summer when Americans who served in the Israeli Defense Forces were killed in Gaza. Americans have had a history in serving in the Israeli Defense Forces and other foreign military units such as the French Foreign Legion.

So legally, serving with the Iraqi Kurds shouldn’t be a problem. However, serving with the Syrian Kurds could be legally problematic, given their ties to the PKK. However, the PKK itself is fighting alongside the Iraqi Kurds and the U.S. is arming other Kurdish organizations designated as terrorist organizations to fight ISIS. My guess is, the U.S. would turn a blind eye to Americans fighting ISIS, regardless of what units they’re with.

As for the crowdfunding idea itself, I like it. This could be a way for Americans who are frustrated with the current U.S. policy towards ISIS to step up and do more. They can give money to help American (and likely other foreign volunteers) equip themselves to fight an evil enemy. This unit can be recruited from social media. An example of this is the Donbass Battalion, which is a Ukrainian militia unit fighting against pro-Russian and Russian forces in the Donbass War in Eastern Ukraine. As its commander admits on this Vice News documentary, they recruited on Facebook and relying on donated weapons, uniforms, and provisions.

This is part of a trend of decentralization in warfare that’s going to become more common. As the enemies of freedom are often stateless, the forces of liberty need to decentralize and use the funding mechanisms of peace to respond accordingly. As has been shown in Ukraine, the enemies of liberty and freedom are still often powerful states, so a decentralized means of warfare is often a necessity.

As everything else has become decentralized and crowd-driven, why should warfare be any different?

*Ringo isn’t the only one with this idea. One friend of mine, who has military experience as well, is working on a similiar project as well.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Operation Inherent Resolve Inherently Hard to Nail Down

Operation Inherent Resolve is the new name for the 2014 U.S.-led intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. From military aid, advisors and humanitarian efforts, the operation has evolved into airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. also has troops on the ground, to serve as “military advisers,” to protect key infrastructure and U.S. installations, and to coordinate humanitarian interventions.

Though the “resolve” is allegedly “inherent,” President Obama maintains these troops will not engage in combat. What is not inherently apparent is whether the operation is constitutional, how its goals will be achieved, or how things are going thus far.

CONSTITUTIONALITY

Congress has not declared war. Air strikes commenced on August 8, 2014. The Commander-in-Chief’s sixty-day grace period under the War Powers Resolution—itself of questionable constitutionality—thus expired in early October.

Or maybe Congress has authorized the operation.

The White House claims that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and/or the 2002 AUMF provide sufficient Congressional approval. The former authorized the use of force against anyone who aided in the September 11, 2001, attacks (whoever or wherever they might be). The latter authorized force against “Iraq” (whatever that is).

One can have some fun—and score some purely political points—arguing that, if the same authorization applies, then those “wars” were not successfully completed. Or if they were successfully completed, and this is a new and different conflict, then POTUS needs to go back to Congress.

THE STRATEGY

In late August, Obama stated “we don’t have a strategy yet” and that his administration was working to “cobble together” a coalition to come up with one. That same month, the Pentagon suggested that airstrikes alone “are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities,” have “a very temporary effect” and have neither “effectively contained” nor “br[oken] the momentum of the threat.”

It is now mid-October. Has the strategy been any more clearly defined?

While the U.S.’s involvement “is going to be a long term project,” the President nevertheless concedes that “[t]here is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.” Instead, the U.S. encourages the formation of an inclusive Iraqi government, which would in turn make Iraqi forces stronger and more cohesive in their efforts to defend themselves.

Wait.

We already did that once, didn’t we?

This effort will be complicated by the fact that, as the Times reported back in July, classified assessments of the Iraqi military find it to be “compromised” by extremists, making it too dangerous for US troops to work with them against ISIL.

That complication illustrates one of the overarching problems with the “war” on “terror” from the outset: We cannot tell who the enemy is and we cannot know when it has surrendered. How do we tell which people in Iraq and Syria are ISIL and which are ISIL’s victims? What would the “defeat” of ISIS look like? How do we know when it has happened? Does everyone who supports ISIL have to be dead? Do its leaders sign surrender documents?

Until we define the answers to these questions, our actions against ISIL will either be ineffective or never-ending—or both.

HOW IT’S GOING SO FAR

If it remains unclear exactly how the US will know when it has defeated ISIL or how long that might take, it is even murkier how it is going so far.

With $2 billion in assets and substantial support from Sunni Muslims around the world, ISIL’s ranks are swelling and it is drawing recruits from foreign countries everywhere. As ISIL continues to behead captives in retaliation for western interference in its endeavors, the fault lines of shifting alliances are as treacherous as ever.

In Syria, ISIL is fighting President Bashar al-Asad, who the U.S. agrees “must go.” The U.S. is trying to help Syrian “moderates” fight against both Present Bashar al-Assad and ISIL and other “non-moderate” rebels.

After Susan Rice claimed Turkey had agreed to let coalition forces use Turkish bases to assist the moderate Syrians rebels, Turkey repudiated any such agreement. Instead of helping in the fight against ISIL, Turkey has bombed a faction of Kurds called the PKK. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the U.S. But the PKK—along with other Kurds—is currently trying to defeat ISIL militants near Kobani, which the U.S. (and presumably Turkey) also wants to do.

U.S. ally Saudi Arabia officially condemns and opposes ISIL. It is one of the coalition members. But Saudi Arabia supports Sunni Salafism, which is the philosophy also followed by ISIL.

The U.S. and Iran do not get along, because the U.S. considers Iran a terrorist state and opposes its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. But Iran is helping support the Iraqi government against ISIL. In exchange, it wants concessions on its nuclear aspirations and a reprieve of sanctions. Fighting ISIL would help the U.S. and moderate Iraqis. It would also help Iran’s friend, Bashar al-Assad, who the U.S. says “must go.” At the same time in Yemen, Iran is supporting the Houthis, who are moderate Shiites and thus enemies of ISIL. This will anger U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, who is helping in the fight against ISIL in Iraq but who also supports Sunni Salifism, which is the philosophy of ISIL.

Clear as mud?

If not, you may have some sympathy for Rear Admiral James Kirby as he tries to answer a question about how things are going in Operation Inherent Resolve. “Military action is not going to be decisive in and of itself,” Rear Admiral Kirby explains. There are “areas where we are having success,” but it is a “mixed picture.” It is “gonna take a long time” and the U.S. will be “in this … for a matter of years.”

Whatever else may be said about the author of this meme that has been making the rounds on social media, the situation can aptly be summed up as follows:

So some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies, whom we want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win.

[And i]f the people we want to defeat are defeated, they might be replaced by people we like even less.

 

Miss me yet?

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

“Climate Change”, and the false dichotomy of “evil or stupid”

As we run up to the midterm elections, the drumbeat is once again sounding throughout that land, that Republicans… or rather, everyone not Leftist… are “anti-science”, “pro-ignorance” etc… etc…

I am constantly hearing some variant of “Republicans are either evil or stupid for not… X”.

The sad part of course, is that a certain percentage of non-leftists, including libertarians and conservatives are in fact, nuts, particularly about science… and another large block are ignorant.

Of course, so are large blocks of those on the left… but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.

There are certainly many scientific issues over which the ideological spectrum split, but likely the biggest one, with the most uniform split (there’s very few whose ideological “side” don’t match the position staked out by that side, to some degree or another)….

“Climate Change”

Ok, talked about it here before, and there’s plenty of great resources on the topic (try Climate Skeptic for a start)… But it’s an issue among my friends right now, and Neil Degrasse Tyson has been talking about it lately (before his most recent brouhaha), facebook is… well, pretty much always covered with it etc…

Let me just lay things out for a bit…

First, YES, there ARE loonies out there who say that there is no climate change “because Jesus” or “It’s all a conspiracy man” etc… etc… etc…

Feel free to ignore them, as you would on every other subject. They don’t represent any kind of reality based universe, never mind a rational position.

There are also those who simply say that there is no such thing as climate change whatsoever… But mostly they are either ignorant of, or don’t understand, the science, math, or historical record in question

And yes, there are far more of those than there should be in 2014.

However, some of us come to our positions through a knowledge of science, engineering, math, the scientific method, research methodologies and data analysis.

There are those, myself among them, who actually DO understand science, and don’t believe in CATASTROPHIC, ANTHROPOGENIC, global warming, leading to systemic, catastrophic climate change.

We are not irrational, ignorant, evil, driven by unsavory motives, or stupid.

We come to this position, because we understand that:

  1. The question isn’t whether climate is changing and will change in the future, it always has and always will. The question is how much has it, how much will it in the future, and why.
  2. Catastrophic, anthropogenic, global warming leading to catastrophic climate change, is a tightly interconnected theory. For any element of the conclusions to be correct, ALL of the suppositions within the theory must be correct. The instant any of them changes, at all, the theory falls apart.
  3. The mathematical models for this have always been highly speculative and have proven non predictive both forward and backward.
  4. The data is greatly variable ( and often poor) in quality, and is adjusted in ways that make it less than useful for a model with high sensitivity predictions, because small changes or inconsistencies in the data make big changes in the model.
  5. The catastrophic model adopted by the U.N. has some major dependencies which are entirely theoretical, and have not been borne out by historical facts; specifically estimates of forcing, estimates of weighting of various factors, and particularly estimates of extremely high sensitivity to certain factors (especially CO2), that while throughout all of history have exhibited one behavior (a stable, negative feedback system), for some reason (i.e. humanity is bad and stuff), things have changed now… even though CO2 has been much higher in the past, and it didn’t happen then… Such that a very small change in CO2 will have a large multiplier effect, transforming the stable negative feedback system that the climate has been throughout the entirety of history to this point, to an unstable positive feedback system.
  6. There is no evidence for this catastrophic theory, nor does it correspond with historical models, or models that prove to be historically predictive (i.e. if you run the model backwards and forwards in time, it matches roughly with what actually happened).
  7. This prediction has been made since the mid 80s (prior to the mid 80, from the early 70s they were predicting global cooling and ice age by the way), and the models have proven to be grossly inaccurate. They are constantly revised to reflect the same conclusion, but never actually predict what ACTUALLY happens in the real world. There was initially slightly more warming than the previous historical models predicted, but by 1991 warming was back to the historical trend line, and there has actually been no significant warming since 1994-1998 depending on exactly which dataset you look at.
  8. Human outputs from all of industry, vehicles etc… Make up less than 1% of total atmospheric CO2… actually between .3 and .4%. The VAST majority of CO2 comes from forests, oceans, animals, and soil (and the bacteria contained therein). They also absorb CO2 in the natural CO2 cycle.
  9. If the historical, non catastrophic models prove correct, and they have so far, there will be between less than 1 and just over 2 degrees centigrade warming in the next 100 years. This is not catastrophic, and is consistent with warming/cooling cycles throughout history.
  10. If all human output of carbon dioxide and other theorized elements of climate change stopped right now, today… That number wouldn’t change at all, or at most very little. Within the margin of error.
  11. Once you take the catastrophic sensitivity to a tiny change out of the model, many other factors become far greater “forcings”, particularly the suns variability (relating to sunspot cycles).
  12. If the catastrophic models are correct, either we already have, or we soon will, pass the point of no return. We would not only have to completely stop emitting CO2 entirely, but we would have to take large amounts of it out of the environment.
  13. No matter what, the developing world isn’t going to stop burning wood, and coal, and growing and modernizing and using as much hydrocarbons as they can. They don’t give a damn what european liberals think, they just want to cook their dinners and have lights at night.
  14. No matter what, China and India aren’t going to stop being 60+% of all CO2 emissions from human sources (that’s according to the environmentalist group, the earth policy institute. UN numbers say it’s more like 30-40%), because if they did they’d all be plunged into even greater poverty and likely starve to death.

What it comes down to is this:

  • If the catastrophic models are correct, it’s too late to do anything about it anyway.
  • Even if every western nation utterly stopped producing ANY output which contributed to climate change, it wouldn’t make any difference whatsoever.
  • If the catastrophic theory is wrong, and everything point to it being so, then we would be spending trillions of dollars, destroying economies, ruining millions or billions of peoples lives etc… All for little or nothing.
  • There are real, actual, proven problems that are far more likely to be important, and that we can actually do something about, that are much better ways to spend our time and money.
  • Ok… so why do so many people support the idea… particularly so many scientists?

    The same reason anyone does anything… because it aligns with their perceived incentives, beliefs, worldview, narrative, and identity.

    To wit…

    1. Funding
    2. Social signaling an ingroup identification
    3. Politics
    4. Power and control (climate change legislation is all about taking power and control from one group, and giving it to another)
    5. Ideology and alignment with world view
    6. The precautionary principle
    7. Anti-capitalism
    8. Funding
    9. Because if they don’t, they don’t get jobs, their papers don’t get published, they don’t get university positions etc…
    10. Because they know that it’s not as bad as the press makes it out to be, but that making it super duper scary is the only way to make the morons out there pay attention and actually make some of the good positive changes that need to happen (like more energy efficient technology, and more research into alternative energy)
    11. Because the entire world has lined up into teams, not just about climate change, but about ALL social, cultural, and scientific issues… Evolution, homosexuality, everything else about the environment etc… and one team has decided to label themselves “progressive” and “liberal” and “pro science” and the other team “anti science”, and nobody wants to be “regressive” and “anti-science”.
    12. Did I mention funding? There is no funding in saying “things are going to be about like they always have been, with some small changes as expected, and maybe a very small degree of increased change… it will have some moderate impacts”. That’s boring, and it gets ignored, and no-one gets any funding, and you can’t do additional research on it. No-one is paying for research into squirrel populations and how “1 degree per century of climate change will impact them).

    Yes… I repeated myself, in several different ways there… That was intentional.

    The Broken Record

    Catastrophists have a record, of being broken records… and being mostly or entirely wrong.

    From 1974 until 1985 or thereabouts, many of the exact same scientists, politicians, pundits, and environmentalists who today are saying are going to warm our way into a combination of ice age, deserts, and typhoons everywhere… were saying the exact opposite.

    At the time, their theories and models said that we were going to precipitate our own ice age, blocking out the sun, and that crops would fail and we would starve to death.

    The fact is, we’ve heard over and over again for decades that if we don’t do exactly what this one particular group wants us to do about any particular issue within 5, 10, 20 years etc… that we’re all gonna die, the world is gonna end, everything will turn to dust, there will be no birds, no trees…

    Anyone remember when acid rain was going to kill us all?

    Yes, in part, it’s because we did respond to the concerns of the environmentalists, regulations were changed somewhat, technology got better, we polluted less and cleaned up more. These are all good things.

    But mostly it was because they were dramatically overstating both the problems, and the solutions; either because they actually believed it, or for political reasons…

    Seems to me, mostly for political reasons.

    Mostly we haven’t done what they asked.

    The world didn’t end.

    We didn’t all die.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean they aren’t right this time…

    …One of these times they just might be… or at least they might be more right than wrong…

    …it just means that we should really be very careful, and very skeptical, about what they say, what we believe, and what we do about it.

    Oh and one more thing…

    There is one final, and almost universal test of the validity of someones claim that “everything has to change”.

    It can’t prove that a claim is true… but it can nearly always prove a false claim to be false, or at least greatly exaggerated.

    Simplified, it’s called the “Act as If” test.

    Does the person making the claim, act as they would if the claim were true, and as urgent as they say?

    Is it conclusive? No… but it’s a pretty strong indicator.

    Do those who say they believe in truly catastrophic anthropogenic global warming pass this test?

    Do they actually act as they would, if they actually believed their predictions.

    The answer is very much no… not even close.

    So, if they don’t… why should anyone else?

    I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

    Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

    Recovered From the Memory Hole: Bush Admin. Agrees to Date for Withdrawal from Iraq

    As the carnage escalates in Iraq, American partisans are pointing fingers and making assertions as to “who lost Iraq.” The neo-cons say that Obama lost Iraq because he pulled the troops out prematurely. Those who opposed the war from the beginning say Iraq is Bush’s mess (something this author mostly agrees with). While these debates are important, what are the facts?

    It turns out that in 2014 we have a nifty tool called Google. One of the most helpful tools is the advanced search that allows someone to enter in a range of dates (it’s the closest thing we have to a time machine). I remembered that the Bush administration set a date for withdrawal from Iraq soon after Barack Obama was elected to be the next POTUS (despite what the neo-con revisionists are trying to say now) but I didn’t remember exactly when. I set the range between November 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008 and entered “Iraqi withdrawal of US troops” in the search box.

    As it turns out, I was right: it was President Bush, not President Obama who came to an agreement with the Iraqi government concerning the date U.S. troops would leave Iraq. In this article I found with this search from The Washington Post dated November 18, 2008, the author goes into a fair amount of detail explaining the circumstances surrounding Bush’s decision to withdrawal all U.S. troops by the end of 2011. The bottom line is that the Iraqi government wanted the troops to either leave or be subject to Iraqi criminal laws. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that was in place at the time stated that U.S. troops would take care to respect Iraqi laws but the U.S. military would take care of any violations. This aspect of the SOFA was something that did not sit well with the new Iraqi regime and the Bush administration wasn’t about to allow U.S. troops to be put in Iraqi prisons.

    While it is true that Obama could have come to a different agreement with the Iraqi government he didn’t. The troops were withdrawn on his watch and not a moment too soon.

    We can debate whether or not the timing was right for U.S. troops to leave Iraq when they did but do not allow the neo-cons and Bush apologists to get away with laying the latest horrors in Iraq at the feet of Obama without acknowledging the fact that he was doing so pursuant to Bush’s policy.

    Jewish Registration: Truth or Anti-Russian Propaganda?

    It seems that the world is yet another step closer to World War III as reports have circulated the globe that Eastern Ukrainians loyal to Russia are now requiring Jews to register and pay a special tax. Even Secretary of State John Kerry has made pronouncements condemning these actions.

    But what if this registration story isn’t true but merely anti-Russian propaganda?

    According to The Times of Israel, the pro-Russian separatists are denying any such attempts to force Jews to register or pay a special tax:

    Pro-Russian separatists from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine denied any involvement in the circulation of flyers calling on Jews to register with separatists and pay special taxes.

    The flyers were official-looking documents that carried what was presented as Pushilin’s signature, but the news site tvrain.ru on Wednesday quoted Pushilin as denying any connection to the flyers, calling them a provocation.

    […]

    On Tuesday, the news website novosti.dn.ua reported that the flyers were handed out that day by three unidentified men in balaclava masks carrying a flag of the Russian Federation.

    According to the report, the men distributed the flyers next to a local synagogue. The website quoted unnamed sources from the local Jewish community as saying that the flyers were an attempt to provoke a conflict and blame the attack on the separatists.

    Is this really what is going on, some sort of false flag operation on the part of those opposed to Russia so that the U.S. and others will take a harder line?

    I think it’s very possible and even plausible. In war, propaganda is an important weapon and practically all governments and revolutionaries use it (you know, to win “hearts and minds” and discourage the enemy). The truth is that I don’t feel like I can trust anything news related coming out of that part of the world. Even though Putin is not necessarily a great person, and even though the Russian government is corrupt, does not necessarily mean that every piece of news that makes Russia or the Russian separatists look bad is true.

    Hat Tip: Antiwar.com

    Declassified: CIA Aided Iraq’s Chemical Weapon Attacks on Iran

    Bashar al-Assad has allegedly crossed what President Obama called a “red line” using chemical weapons against up to 1,000 people. The threat of chemical weapons and other WMD by such unsavory characters as Saddam Hussein was the major pretext for “preemptive” war with Iraq.

    President George W. Bush argued that regime change was necessary due to the fact that Hussein used these awful weapons in the Iraq-Iran war and against the Kurds. In this post 9/11 world, “outlaw regimes,” particularly those he dubbed the “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) were a threat to the civilized world which could no longer be tolerated. Chemical weapons are so taboo, after all, even the Nazis opted not to use chemical weapons on the battlefield!*

    But as this article in Foreign Policy points out in analyzing declassified CIA documents, the use of these weapons was not so taboo inside the CIA at the time when Saddam Hussein used them against Iran (yes, the very same event which would later be cited as a reason to attack Iraq about a decade and a half later):

    In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

    The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

    U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

    “The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

    It seems that U.S. foreign policy is quite hypocritical, no? Using chemical weapons are fine as long as they are being used against a nation the administration at the time happens to dislike, for whatever reason…until a later administration decides differently. While the use of chemical weapons is very inhumane and rightfully condemned by the civilized world, the U.S. hardly has the moral high ground in deciding where any red line is or what action should be taken whenever it is crossed.**

    H/T: AntiWar.com

    *Not that the Nazis had some sort of moral objection to using such weapons when exterminating the Jews. The reason these weapons weren’t used on the battlefield was probably due to the difficulty in using chemical weapons in anything other than ideal weather conditions and that they did not want the Allies to use the weapons used against them.

    **Assuming there is no direct threat to national security of the U.S.

    Quote of the Day: Failed Attempt at Intimidation Edition

    “If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these [Snowden] documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world – when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today – all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.”

    Glenn Greenwald writing in response to his partner David Miranda’s 9 hour detention by UK authorities at Heathrow Airport.

    Margaret Thatcher Defends her Record and Capitalism Itself

    In marking the passing of one of the staunchest defenders of capitalism who held high office, I thought it would be appropriate to post this video of Margaret Thatcher in which she defended her record against her Labour Party critics. In this video, her political opponents thought the income gap grew too much under her leadership. Listen to her answer. This is the sort of unapologetic defence of capitalism we need in leadership on this side of the pond.

    Another interesting part of this video was her warnings against the idea of a central European bank and currency. It seems that she was quite prescient given the problems of the Euro.

    Profile in Courage: Malala Yousafzai

    It’s one thing to advocate for the cause of human liberty on a blog such as this in a country that is still relatively free; it’s quite another when doing so is against the policy of the government you live under could cost you your very life. If you haven’t heard about the brave 15 year-old Pakistani girl by the name of Malala Yousafzai who defiantly spoke out against the Taliban on women’s rights issues and the right for her to go to school, you have missed a truly inspiring story.

    Because of her speaking out against the Taliban, she was targeted and nearly killed. The good news is that she has been discharged from a British hospital, though her treatment is still ongoing and will have cranial-reconstruction surgery in the very near future.

    Time has more:

    Described by many around her as a precocious child, Malala has proved to be an articulate and capable orator: In 2008, her father took her to a local press-club event in Peshawar, where she delivered a speech titled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?” Since her shooting, this speech and many others have gone viral on the Web, even inspiring a speech competition in her name in Dubai. Indeed, the Taliban’s violent response to her increasing outspokenness has amplified her voice far more than anyone believed possible.

    Flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, after the shooting, Malala underwent intense treatment under an equally intense media spotlight. Part of her skull had been removed by doctors in Pakistan to relieve pressure on her swelling brain. The gunman’s bullet pierced the skin on the left side of her head and ended up in her shoulder. She now has a titanium plate in place of the part of the skull that was removed.

    […]

    Malala will have to focus on her long-term recovery. The question is what her long-term deficits will be, compared with her baseline, says Dasgupta. But it is clear that Malala’s passion for her cause has not been quelled. Within weeks of arriving in Birmingham, she was seen with a book in hand and headscarf draped over her head, insisting that even in her most vulnerable moment she be pictured as a fighter rather than a victim.

    Malala has started brushfires of liberty in her part of the world and beyond. What more can I really say other than I am so pleased that there are such brave individuals in this world.

    The Modern Republican Party is a Special Kind of Suck (Part 1 of 3)

    Barack Obama’s Record of Suck
    Four years ago, Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. He promised hope n’ change from the failed policies of George W. Bush. His policies were going to lower the debt, reduce unemployment to around 5%, become the “most transparent administration in U.S. history,” close Guantanamo Bay, and restore the damaged international relations around the world.

    Four years later, Obama has increased the debt by $6 trillion (the national debt is now over $16 trillion), kept unemployment hovering around 8% for nearly his entire first term despite his Keynesian efforts to stimulate the economy, and punished whistleblowers for daring to shed light on what has arguably been one of the least transparent administrations in history. Guantanamo Bay is not only still open but now with Obama’s signing of the NDAA, even American citizens can be taken there and detained indefinitely without charge or trail. If this wasn’t enough, the Obama administration also developed a “secret kill list” from which drones search for and kill targets from that list– including American citizens, who are sought out in Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, and who knows where else without any Constitutional authority whatsoever.

    Then there’s “Fast and Furious,” an operation of Eric Holder’s Justice Department in which the BATFE purposely gave weapons to Mexican drug cartels resulting in untold deaths including a Border Control Agent by the name of Brian Terry. Obama has since invoked executive privilege to protect Holder from congress getting too close to the truth.

    Finally, there are the terrorist attacks in Libya and Egypt on September 11, 2012. Rather than admit the obvious, President Obama and his administration lied to the American public concerning the nature of the attack claiming the attacks came from spontaneous protesters who were angry about an obscure YouTube video that “slandered” the prophet Mohammad.

    A Special Kind of Suck
    This is only a thumbnail sketch of the failures and malfeasance of the Obama administration in one term of office. Today the news should be about the Romney/Ryan transition team after a slam dunk landslide victory. But that is not the news today, is it? Yes, the Republican Party sucks but for the Republican challenger to be beaten despite Obama’s record, an advantage the last Republican challenger did not have, that takes a special kind of suck.

    How exactly did the Republican Party achieve this special kind of suck? That is the question political observers are asking and what the party needs to answer if the GOP wants to win future elections. Reflexively, many on the Right are blaming the main stream media for its pro-Obama bias. There’s no question the MSM was more critical of Romney than Obama. They downplayed team Obama’s missteps but never missed an opportunity to report each and every gaffe of team Romney. Romney was also running against history – America’s first black president. While this is all true, it’s also true that Republicans won control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections on a wave of Tea Party fervor. The MSM had just as much of an Obama/Left wing bias then as they do now yet the Republicans gained ground. What was different this time?

    Mitt Romney, the Nominee of Suck
    No doubt, Gov. Mitt Romney is probably getting most of the blame and he deserves much of it. That being said, the reasons Romney failed to beat a failed president go well beyond Romney or his campaign. Maybe, Romney is a good place to start though.

    Rather than make a choice that would be a champion of the limited government issues Republicans claim to care about (like say Gary Johnson or Ron Paul), the GOP decided they would go with Mitt Romney. Never mind that he authored the forerunner to ObamaCare (RomneyCare) or that he was a political chameleon (does anyone seriously think he made a principled change, as opposed to a political calculation, on abortion when it was time to run in 2008?). No, Romney was “electable” and by gosh, it was “his turn.”

    Much of the destructive foreign policy of the Obama administration was right in line with what Romney said he would do. Romney had no problem with the NDAA, Guantanamo Bay, the secret kill list, or renewing the Patriot Act, therefore; these areas which were ripe for criticism were off the table. Other than the question of defense spending, they seemed to both have identical policies concerning Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and both pledged they would “stand with Israel”…whatever that means. In the foreign policy debate, the moderator handed Romney a golden opportunity to go after Obama on the recent terror attacks but decided not to do so. On another occasion, Romney did casually bring up Fast and Furious in response to a question about gun control but didn’t ask Obama some of the hard hitting questions many Americans were dying for Romney to ask.

    On domestic issues, Romney allowed his opponents to define him as an out of touch millionaire who didn’t care about the 47% of the people he determined wouldn’t support him. Romney did a very poor job of defending free market capitalism* in general and his record both as governor and as a businessman in particular. When asked about the alleged gender pay gap in one of the debates, rather than explaining that the statistic doesn’t actually compare women and men of comparable occupation or work experience he said he asked for “binders full of women” from which he picked to be in senior positions when he was governor of Massachusetts. The Democrats took that line and demagogued** the hell out of it and made it part of their “war on women” mantra. If Romney didn’t want to go through the trouble of explaining why the gender pay gap is a myth, he could have respectfully asked Obama why the women on his staff and why female staffers for Democrats in the Senate are paid far less than their male counterparts. Another hanging curveball that Romney didn’t even take a swing at.

    The Romney campaign was ultimately a campaign of missed opportunities; a campaign in which the candidate failed to make the case that he would be a better alternative to the incumbent. When asked how his “numbers would add up” concerning his economic policy, his answer was basically “trust me, the numbers add up.” Barack Obama could get by with his slogans and his platitudes as MSM dutifully filled in the details. But to run against an incumbent who the MSM clearly supported, the challenger apparently made the mistake that the MSM would do the same on his behalf. When you are running against an incumbent and the MSM, you better understand that you have to explain your positions yourself (particularly in the debates) rather than hope others will carry your message for you.

    *Though really, I’m not sure how much Mitt Romney really believes in free market capitalism given his desire to start a trade war with China.
    ** Frankly, I never quite understood what their criticism was in this instance. Was it just that “binders full of women” sounds funny?

    Part 2

    In the U.S. State Department’s De-listing of MEK as a Terrorist Group, the “War on Terror” Loses All Meaning*

    “In this world, there are good causes and bad causes, and we may disagree on where that line is drawn. Yet, there is no such thing as a good terrorist. No national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Any government that rejects this principle, trying to pick and choose its terrorist friends, will know the consequences.” -President George W. Bush speech to the U.N. General Assembly on November 10, 2001

    “We don’t negotiate with terrorists”- a refrain we have heard from many American presidents and American politicians over the years. But anyone who has taken even a cursory look at history knows that this is a lie. Not only does our government negotiate with terrorists and state sponsors of terrorism, the uncomfortable truth is that the U.S. itself is a state sponsor of terrorist groups when the group in question uses its tactics against enemies of the U.S. or her allies.

    The latest example is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement that Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (a.k.a. MEK) will be de-listed as a “foreign terrorist organization.” MEK has been on the list since 1997. For those who are not familiar with MEK, this organization was once aligned with Saddam Hussein** and allegedly responsible for killing at least six Americans in the 1970’s along with a failed kidnapping attempt of U.S. Ambassador to Iran Douglas MacArthur II in 1971 and a failed assassination attempt of USAF Brig Gen Harold Price in 1972.

    Lest there be any partisans on the Right trying to accuse the Obama administration giving in to terrorism, its worth pointing out that the campaign to de-list MEK has been a bipartisan effort. Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge, Fran Townsend, Michael Mukasey, Andrew Card of the Right have joined MEK advocates of the Left such as Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, and Ed Rendell. Many of these advocates have been paid to speak out on MEK’s behalf; a crime of “material support” of terrorism under normal circumstances but apparently A-OK if done by prominent politicians.

    So what exactly has MEK done to ingratiate itself to the State Department to be de-listed as a foreign terrorist organization? Has MEK ceased its terrorist activities or paid restitution (to the extent it could be paid) to its victims? According to Glenn Greenwald, its quite the opposite:

    What makes this effort all the more extraordinary are the reports that MEK has actually intensified its terrorist and other military activities over the last couple of years. In February, NBC News reported, citing US officials, that “deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by [MEK]” as it is “financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service”. While the MEK denies involvement, the Iranian government has echoed these US officials in insisting that the group was responsible for those assassinations. NBC also cited “unconfirmed reports in the Israeli press and elsewhere that Israel and the MEK were involved in a Nov. 12 explosion that destroyed the Iranian missile research and development site at Bin Kaneh, 30 miles outside Tehran”.

    In April, the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh reported that the US itself has for years provided extensive training to MEK operatives, on US soil (in other words, the US government provided exactly the “material support” for a designated terror group which the law criminalizes). Hersh cited numerous officials for the claim that “some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today.” The MEK’s prime goal is the removal of Iran’s government.

    Despite these reports that the MEK has been engaged in terrorism and other military aggression against Iran – or, more accurately: likely because of them – it was announced on Friday the US State Department will remove MEK from its list of terrorist organizations. This event is completely unsurprising. In May, I noted the emergence of reports that the State Department would do so imminently.

    Greenwald goes on to point out five lessons we should learn from MEK’s de-listing: 1. There is a separate justice system in the US for Muslim Americans, 2. the US government is not opposed to terrorism when its beneficial, 3.“terrorism” is a meaningless (and often manipulated) term, 4. legalized influence-peddling within both parties is what drives DC, and 5. there is aggression between the US and Iran, but it’s generally not from Iran. It’s quite a scathing indictment of what the U.S. government’s stated policy is regarding terrorism and what its actual policy is.

    Over at Popehat, Ken writes his thoughts about MEK’s de-listing. Ken recalls how as a young lawyer, he was on a prosecution team responsible for prosecuting someone who had ties with MEK. By Ken’s account, there was “no doubt” that this person was guilty of running an immigration fraud ring as the evidence against him was “overwhelming.” Ken points out that this occurred before 9/11 and “Bob’s” sentence wasn’t any worse because of his involvement with MEK, though the prosecution team worked very hard was very proud of connecting “Bob” to the terrorist organization.

    Needless to say, Ken isn’t very pleased with MEK’s de-listing either and for some very good reasons:

    The six people the MEK killed in the 1970s are still dead. They were dead when the State Department designated the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization and they have been dead all the years since and they won’t get any less dead when the State Department removes the MEK from its FTO list. The MEK is the organization that once allied with Saddam Hussein; that historical fact hasn’t changed, although its political significance has. No — what has changed is the MEK’s political power and influence and the attitude of our government towards it.

    […]

    The United States government, under two opposed increasingly indistinguishable political parties, asserts the right to kill anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror. It asserts the right to detain anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror, and to do so based on undisclosed facts applied to undisclosed standards in undisclosed locations under undisclosed conditions for however long it wants, all without judicial review. It asserts the right to be free of lawsuits or other judicial proceedings that might reveal its secrets in the War on Terror. It asserts that the people it kills in drone strikes are either probably enemy combatants in the War on Terror or acceptable collateral damage. It asserts that increasing surveillance of Americans, increasing interception of Americans’ communications, and increasingly intrusive security measures are all required by the War on Terror.

    But the War on Terror, unlike other wars, will last as long as the government says it will. And, as the MEK episode illustrates, the scope of the War on Terror -the very identity of the Terror we fight — is a subjective matter in the discretion of the government. The compelling need the government cites to do whatever it wants is itself defined by the government.

    Glenn Greenwald and Ken are both right on what the de-listing of MEK should tell us about the so-called war on terror. Our government is not serious about fighting terrorism, it condones it even as we surrender our liberties at home. This is especially true if the target of the terrorism is Iran or another “state sponsor of terrorism” we are all supposed to be afraid of and eventually be at war with.

    » Read more

    Rand Paul on Why Foreign Aid Should be Cut to Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan

    On Saturday, September 22, 2012 Rand Paul’s S.3576, a bill that would have “provide[d] limitations on United States assistance” (i.e. placed conditions on aid to Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan) was soundly defeated by a 81-10 vote. On the day before the vote, Paul gave an hour long speech (truncated, 10 minute version in the video below) on the Senate floor explaining to his colleges why sending tax dollars to foreign countries is a terrible idea, particularly foreign countries which are openly hostile to the US in word or deed. In the speech, Paul reminds us that the foreign policy of recent history that has far too often been forgotten by the American public pointing out that some of the recipients of our aid eventually became our enemies. The notion of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has been counterproductive. Saddam Hussein, Omar Qaddafi, the Mujahideen anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

    Resistance is Not Always Futile

    There’s no question that the 2012 campaign has been full of disappointments for those of us who want less government, more liberty, and more prosperity in our lives. Very clearly, the game is rigged in large part due to the establishment media, powerful special interest groups, and the political parties themselves. It’s very easy to become disillusioned by the entire process and sometimes it’s tempting to give up and say “to hell with it!”

    But rather than bring down you readers out there (as I often do), I want to share something very inspiring with you from Cato’s David Boaz (below). In Boaz’s lecture, he explains how everyday heroism hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. We libertarians complain – often with good reason, about how difficult it is for our voices to be heard in the two party system. For all practical purposes, the U.S.S.R. had only one political party and dissent was strongly discouraged…to put it mildly.

    Yet somehow, ordinary people were able to rise up, demand the liberties we all too often take for granted, and prevailed! How did they do it? What can we learn from how these ordinary people brought down the Evil Empire, and more importantly, how can we apply these lessons here in the US?

    Ron Paul Will Never Be President But He HAS Made a Difference

    Those who support the establishment of the Republican Party tend to be irritated that Ron Paul’s supporters kept trying to put his name up for nomination against Mitt Romney at the convention in Tampa even though Paul had no realistic chance of winning. Even very early in the campaign, establishment whores such as Hugh Hewitt were arguing that Ron Paul along with Herman Cain and Gary Johnson should be “exiled” from the debates because they didn’t have “a prayer of winning” the nomination. But are political campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, only about winning the nomination and ultimately, the presidency?

    As someone who supported Ron Paul in the primary, I believed his winning the nomination would be the greatest upset in political history to say nothing about becoming the next president. When Terry Moran asked Paul the question: “When you lay your head on your pillow at night, do you see yourself in the Oval Office?” Paul replied “not really.” This is not a typical response of someone who is making a serious run for president.

    This isn’t to say in any way that Ron Paul was not making a serious run for president, I think he was. Paul made three unsuccessful runs for the presidency but has succeeded in changing the political conversation. He advanced the ball in ways that he otherwise would not have had he not made these runs for the White House.

    The most obvious example of how Paul has changed the political debate would be his call for a full audit of the Federal Reserve. As recently as 2006, the following was written about the Federal Reserve in a book by Richard Brookhiser entitled What Would the Founders Do (Our Questions, Their Answers)*

    Everyone likes the Federal Reserve System these days, partly because it seems to work so well. (Not one person in a thousand ever thinks of it, a rough definition of working well.) But suspicion of public banks could revive at any time, for the same reasons that many of the founders were suspicious of them — most people (the founders included) do not understand banks or banking, and some bankers are in fact crooks. (p.92)

    Back when this paragraph was written, I don’t think the Federal Reserve was even on my radar and I don’t think I was alone. Maybe the Fed isn’t the top issue for the average voter even now but I do think it’s safe to say more people are skeptical of the Fed especially in the era of bailouts and quantitative easing (i.e. printing money out of thin air). The mere mention of Ben Bernake or the Fed, especially at Ron Paul or liberty oriented rallies bring about boos and chants of “End the Fed!” “End the Fed!” This in of itself isn’t that big of a deal; these are true believers. What is a big deal, however; is that language to audit the Fed has made its way into the 2012 Republican Party Platform. Even more importantly, Paul’s Audit the Fed bill passed the House by an overwhelming 327-98 vote margin. Every single Republican but one supported the legislation along with 89 Democrats.

    The bill wasn’t brought to a vote in the Senate but pressure will mount on Harry Reid if the Democrats maintain control to schedule a vote. If the Republicans take the Senate, a vote is even more likely to happen and Audit the Fed would be more likely to pass. If it gets to the president’s desk, the president – be it Obama or Romney will sign the bill, I believe.

    A bipartisan bill authored by Ron Paul – who would have thought?

    Ron Paul, one man who prior to the 2008 campaign wasn’t a household name, has changed the conversation within the G.O.P. concerning the Fed, spending, constitutional government, taxation, and civil liberties. Though his delegates were mistreated in Tampa, the RNC saw fit to at least try to mollify them with this tribute to the congressman’s career.

    Missing from the tribute video was Paul’s anti-war/anti-interventionist views that he has espoused throughout his political career. Paul challenged people to do their own research concerning American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. He openly challenged the notion that policing the world trying to “make the world safe for democracy” and nation building was in America’s national security interest. Though the Neocons and war hawks are still firmly in control of the G.O.P., more voices in the party are challenging the prevailing view and cautioning Americans about blowback – a term invented by the C.I.A. but popularized by the Texas congressman.

    Most important of all, Ron Paul is leaving a legacy behind him as he retires from congress. What will become of the rEVOLution in his absence? A small but growing number of individuals are being elected to the House and the Senate who share many of Paul’s small government/pro-liberty views. Ron Paul’s son Sen. Rand Paul along with Sen. Mike Lee, Sen. Mark Kirk, Rep. Justin Amash among others will lead the movement into the future. If the Paul activists continue to fight the establishment from inside** the G.O.P., there is at least a chance that the party will actually live up to its more small government ideals it purports to stand for.

    *Basic Books, New York.

    **While I understand why some Paul supporters might be tempted to leave the party due to how they have been treated by the party establishment, I would advise against this. The G.O.P. is ripe for a hostile takeover BUT the establishment isn’t going to give up control so easy. If you drop out, you are allowing them to win; this is precisely what they want you to do. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Focus on the Senate, House, and races at the state and local levels and vote your conscience for president (the wonderful thing about voting is that you don’t have to tell anyone who you voted for). After this election, regroup and continue to fight for liberty.

    Anti-Choice* Extremism in Conservative Movement Lends Credence to the Left’s “War on Women” Mantra

    One of the ways the Obama campaign and Democrats in general have been deflecting attention away from the poor performance of the economy has been to change the subject to social issues. Democrats know that independent women are reluctant to support Republicans because of this perception that Republicans do not care about the concerns of women. Democrats are doing all they can to reinforce this perception asserting that Republicans have engaged in a “war on women.” Among their talking points are that Republicans are opposed to “equal pay for equal work” laws, contraception coverage mandates for health insurance, and abortion even in the cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother (I have already debunked the alleged gender pay gap here and explained why there is no “right” to free contraception here). Republicans tend to lend credence to being anti-woman when they say things like the following:

    “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

    That was Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s response to a question concerning whether or not a woman should have the legal right to terminate a pregnancy that was a result of a rape. How might a pregnant woman who was raped conclude from this statement? Was Mr. Akin implying that she wasn’t “legitimately raped” otherwise, she wouldn’t be pregnant? Why, every woman in America who has become pregnant who thought she was raped must not have actually been raped! No, these women must have enjoyed the experience, or at the very least consented according to fertility expert Todd Akin.

    One would hope that some of the Republican men, especially those who are running for office, would have moved on past the misogynistic attitudes revealed in comments like these. Unfortunately, it seems that some continue to hold on to a similar attitude as Clayton Williams who once joked about bad weather and rape “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

    Beyond idiotic statements like these, anti-choice activists have been pushing so-called “personhood” laws in various states to give every fertilized egg full legal rights that all people have. Personhood goes beyond the abortion issue and has some very bad unintended consequences. The Dominican Republic has such laws already on the books; just a few days ago, a teenager died most likely because doctors were afraid of running afoul of the law.

    CNN reports:

    (CNN) — A pregnant leukemia patient who became a flashpoint in the abortion debate in the Dominican Republic died Friday morning, a hospital official told CNN.
    The 16-year-old, who had been undergoing chemotherapy, died from complications of the disease, said Dr. Antonio Cabrera, the legal representative for the hospital.

    Her case stirred debate in her country, as her life was potentially at risk because of anti-abortion laws in the Dominican Republic.

    Doctors were hesitant to give her chemotherapy because such treatment could terminate the pregnancy — a violation of the Dominican Constitution, which bans abortion. Some 20 days after she was admitted to the hospital, she finally began receiving treatment.

    The patient, whose identity has not been released because she’s a minor and because of the hospital’s privacy policy, was 13 weeks pregnant.

    Oh, well that’s the Dominican Republic. That would never happen here in the U.S., right? Don’t be so sure. Back in April, the Tennessee House passed a bill that would make every woman who has a miscarriage a murder suspect. The Georgia legislature considered a similar bill that would have required women to prove that their miscarriages “occurred naturally.” Having a miscarriage, a very common occurrence, is traumatic enough without being interrogated by some asshole detective downtown!

    While some of these “war on women” attacks on Republicans are unfair in my judgment, Republicans don’t do themselves any favors by some of their more extreme anti-choice proposals and comments. Good people can disagree about abortion but those who are opposed to abortion need to do a better job of making their case without making women second-class citizens with fewer rights than “the unborn” whenever they happen to be pregnant.

    ***UPDATE***
    The Republicans have added a “human life” plank to the draft of their party platform.

    CNN reports:

    Tampa, Florida (CNN) – The Republican Party is once again set to enshrine into its official platform support for “a human life amendment” to the Constitution that would outlaw abortion without making explicit exemptions for rape or incest, according to draft language of the platform obtained exclusively by CNN late Monday.

    “Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” the draft platform declares. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

    Sigh.

    My Republican friends: if you lose to Obama in November, don’t blame Libertarians. If you focus on these divisive social issues instead of the economy (and it IS the economy, stupid) you will lose and you will only have yourselves to blame.

    » Read more

    Fast and Furious was not botched

    I’ve officially lost count of the number of times I’ve heard or read a media source assert that Operation Fast and Furious was botched. It wasn’t. It did exactly what it was designed to do: put American guns in the hands of criminals so they could terrorize and kill innocent Mexicans with them and get caught doing so. When they were caught, the guns would be traced back to American gun shops “proving” that smuggling was a huge problem that had to be solved by any means necessary.

    Were it not for the whistleblowers, the Obama administration would have built a gun control propaganda campaign upon a pile of dead bodies–exactly has they had planned to. Every single dead body was the result of things going right in the operation, not wrong.

    So, why is the media continuing to insist that it was botched? Simple. It allows them to keep the truth of the Republican investigation out of the narrative. They can frame the investigation as looking into a mistake, like so many others. In reality, it’s an investigation looking at the administration’s clear intent to sacrifice innocent and unwilling lives for its own political agenda.

    When you hear the word botched, know that it’s an attempt to weave a tale of incompetence when the real story is one of evil.

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