Iraq Life The War on Terrorism

The morons die with our respect.

A direct quote from an officemate today; I walked in on the middle of this conversation:

…but war is good.  We need war every few years or so to kill off all the morons – send the jocks, the meatheads, all of them.  We need to let them volunteer, go off and get killed – like in Iraq; it’s perfect.  Who else would be willing to go?  I mean with respect of course – the morons die with our respect. [Waving his hand to dismiss someone.]

One of the most unusual people I know discussing why war is good.  He’s generally a conservative, in a Catholic religious sense.  But he has a determinedly independent streak and a penchant for saying outrageous things.

He also maintained at a previous point that the Taliban in Afghanistan were “basically” the “good guys” because they were religious instead of the thugs growing drugs.  I in no way endorse what he says – but his point of view is distinct and usually well-thought out.  It just goes to show how far a faulty premise can take you.

Election 2008 Law Liberalism Libertarianism Morality Political Philosophy Politics The Web and Technology

The libertarian liberal

Liberty Bell

[digg-reddit-me]My post of a few weeks ago got a bit of attention. I was called a Communist by one person. Someone else suggested I was a secret member of the long-defunct FBI program COINTELPRO. Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos approvingly linked to it from the main page of The Daily Kos. The Freedom Democrats had a small discussion, including the notation that they could tell that “the person who wrote it is not really a libertarian.” Enough people on reddit believed the post would cause damage to the candidacy of Ron Paul and down-modded it.

I have written this article in response to a few comments:

Libertas questioned:

Umm.. how exactly does ‘Kos Libertarian’ differ from the standard Democrat, other than opposing the various lobbies?
…What you are describing is not Libertarianism; it is the noble, but slippery slope to government expansion and to the loss of freedom.

A “Jay” opined:

It appears then that ‘Libertarian Democrats’ need to go look up the definition of ‘corporation’. If you would have done that first you might not have made an ass out of yourself and completely discredited yourself with such an absurd quote.

symphonyofdissent argued that:

… there is a real distinction between a progressive and a left-libertarian…Progressivism does not view the individual as the critical unit, but instead views society as a whole. The sacrifice of individual liberty is justified if it benefits society on the whole Libertarianism views individuals as the primary unit of interest.

erw wrote:

i think checking corporate power is seen as a non-issue for libertarians, since they believe:

1) the place to check corporate power is in the courts, if and when they harm you or your property.
2) corporate lobbies and special treatment are all by-products of a large federal government…

i think it just shows how much influence ron paul has. he is pulling democrats into his camp with fearless stances.

Fred Fnord had a thoughtful comment, which you should read in full.

This post is responding to a number of these points. As always, feel free to comment. ((As some people have noticed, your comment will not appear until I have approved it. This is only an anti-spam measure. I approve every comment that is not clearly spam; and I try to check as often as possible.))

The essence of libertarianism
I cannot do justice to the philosophy of libertarianism in a single post, and I will not try. But I think we can all agree that there are two main ideas at the base of a libertarian politics:

  1. I exist as an individual and I own myself; and
  2. “Where the State begins, individual liberty ceases, and vice versa.” ((By Mikhail Bakunin. I don’t mean to cite Bakunin as a typical libertarian, but only to take this quote and use it to express in a simple form one of the main precepts agreed to by all libertarians. I thought of using Ronald Reagan’s “Government is not the solution, it is the problem,” but that seemed a bit too specific. It was a conclusion, rather than a base.))

In a pragmatic sense, the goal, or the teleological end, of libertarianism is the promotion of individual liberty.

Coming to the libertarian liberal philosophy

To summarize the point both I and Markos Moulitsas were making:

Kos Libertarians ((I think the term “Kos libertarian” best describes the current movement of libertarian-minded Democrats, but that the term “libertarian liberal” best describes the pragmatic politics and philosophy.)) believe we do not need a government small enough to drown in a bathtub as Grover Norquist famously said. Rather, we need a government that is as small as possible, while still allowing it to act as a check against corporate power. In other words, Kos Libertarians believe we need a government that not only butts out of our life, but that guards our rights against others. ((As a commenter pointed out, the original phrasing (“that protects our rights against others”) can be read as an unfair interpretation of traditional libertarianism. Traditional libertarians would see the courts as the appropriate place for the government to mediate between parties and protect basic rights. What I should have said was that “Kos libertarians believe we need a government that not only butts out of our individuals lives, but guards our rights against others.” Libertarians liberals believe that the government must take an active role in pro-actively guarding individual rights.))

History has proven time and again that individuals and liberties will be trampled upon by the powerful without preemptive action by the government. Corporations take advantage of their special status ((Specifically limited liability provisions. And in response to “Jay”, although corporations are legally considered individuals, this is something commonly called a “legal fiction.” Philosophically, morally, pragmatically, physiologically, psychologically, and in every other way they are not. They are collectives.)) in order to circumvent legal responsibility for their actions. The kind of libertarianism favored by many towards the right-wing of the political spectrum involves going back to the 1890s, when corporations were first granted the rights of individuals and had few regulations imposed on them; and also when the government had fewer powers and intruded less on the life of the ordinary person.

But the changes that occurred after that point happened for a reason. The traditional libertarian remedy of requiring individuals to bring suit against companies for any harm done to them failed. Corporations exerted enormous power and subverted the courts to their will. They forced workers to toil in unsafe conditions; they made faulty products; they exploited natural resources without giving anything back to the community; they polluted the air, water, and soil. If the government had not stepped in in the early 1900s under Teddy Roosevelt and in the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt, the capitalist system of free markets guided by “an invisible hand” would have perished. Government began to assume more power in a large part to act as a check against the corporate abuses of their growing power.

Yet by the 1980s, it was obvious to many Americans that the government could do great harm, even when it was trying to act beneficently. The welfare program helped entrench people in ghettos; the Vietnam War, fought to save the Vietnamese from Communism, had accomplished nothing; the national security system created to respond to the domestic and international threat of the Cold War had turned against dissenters and political opponents; the growing domestic spending led to huge deficits and inflation. The government was clearly a problem.

The libertarian liberal philosophy is a response to this moment in history – synthesizing the critique of capitalism inherent in the New Deal and the critique of government inherent in the Reagan Revolution.

What does a libertarian liberal believe

At the heart of American liberalism, there has always been a contradiction. American liberals have long fought for individual rights against the state – especially in matter relating to criminal law, civil rights, minority rights, and free speech. ((The American liberal’s record on free speech in the past twenty years though is significantly more checked.)) At the same time, American liberals fought for greater state intervention in the economy and daily life of the nation. The American liberal tradition had not acknowledged that by giving the state greater power, we were in effect conceding individual freedoms. Even if that power was required to be used to help individuals, it would inevitably have negative side effects, making these individuals dependent on the state and giving the government more power and ability to manipulate individuals.

Today, many liberals have come to see this reality. While we still believe that government can be used for good, we are much more cautious about what government can and should do.

The libertarian liberal approach is pragmatic rather than ideological. It is about maximizing individual liberty with one caveat: the moral duty to empower the impoverished and the disadvantaged. Maximizing individual liberty means using the government as a check against corporations; it means setting up checks and balances within the government itself; it means a strong media, willing to challenge the government and corporations; it means strong individual rights to keep the government and corporations in check; it means elections that are meaningful. To maximize individual liberties, we need to constantly balance the many competing forces in such a way as to give each person the rights that are their birthright.

The difference between a liberal and a libertarian liberal

The goals of liberals and libertarian liberals are similar if not the same. The difference is in the approach. For example, let’s look at health care. As a traditional liberal, Dennis Kucinich does not see value in a libertarian view of the problem. Government, for him, cannot be the problem; it must be the entire solution. He wants to eliminate the system as it is and impose a government-run health care plan on everyone, whether they want it or not. To take another example of a more pragmatic traditional liberal, Hillary Clinton, does not want to eliminate the system, but wants to work within it. She wants to take a number of steps to make it easier for the average person to buy health insurance, including opening up the plan used by members of Congress to the population at large. But she also plans to mandate that every person get and maintain health insurance.

Barak Obama’s plan is similar to Hillary’s but with one crucial difference. He too plans on taking a number of steps to make health insurance more affordable, and to open up Congress’s plan to the rest of the country, to invest more in health care infrastructure, and take a number of steps to reduce costs. But he will not force anyone adult to get health insurance. ((There is a rather large debate going on now between Paul Krugman, Barack Obama, Robert Reich, and Hillary Clinton about this. Hillary is saying Obama’s plan won’t cover everyone because it won’t have a mandate; but Hillary’s plan actually won’t either – it will just require that everyone get insurance. Krugman has stepped in to attack Obama mercilessly again and again and again as the Clinton shill he has become; and Reich stepped in to look at both sides, and come down on the side of Obama. Jaydiatribe has a good overall view of the conflict.)) This is the difference between a traditional liberal and a libertarian liberal. ((I wouldn’t necessarily say Obama is a libertarian liberal, but on this issue, it fits. He also seems closest to the position of all the current crop of candidates. And certainly, as a member of a different generation, he has learned the lessons of the 1980s better than Hillary.)) Both see a problem – a problem that the free market is making worse – and both believe that the government must act. Neither believes that a complete overhaul of the system can happen – for pragmatic reasons, if nothing else. Both lay out similar steps that need to be taken – to reduce prices, to enable individuals to afford health care, and to make it more available. But Hillary believes the government needs to force independent and competent ((Added “independent and competent”. I, for the life of me, cannot think of the correct term to use here. There is a philosophical term on the tip of my tongue used to describe people who are able to make independent, self-conscious decisions.)) people to get health care; Obama does not.

There are arguments to be made as to why the government should force people to get health care – Paul Krugman has been harping on these for some time – but if one believes that the government should only use force when it is absolutely necessary, as a libertarian does, then Obama’s program is better because it respects individual rights. The best use of government in a libertarian liberal view is when it is able to empower individuals and act as a check against corporate abuse of individual liberty. Obama’s plan does this; with Hillary’s plan individuals are empowered to act against corporations, and corporate power is checked – but the government is given yet more leverage over every individual, creating another regulation for individuals to comply with, and another reason for the government to penalize the exercise of freedom.

Election 2008 Foreign Policy Giuliani Law Libertarianism Obama Politics Post 9/11 Generation The War on Terrorism

Why I write this blog

It’s been about two months since I’ve started this blog. I started it knowing only that I wanted to write, and that I already had a dozen ideas for posts or articles. There were many times as well when I would read this or that article and be frustrated at the inaccuracies, and I wanted to correct them, or add to them, and I thought could advance the collective conversation.

This blog has in many ways been more successful than I anticipated – with over 125,000 pageviews and over 80,000 absolute unique visitors in this short time. I’ve been writing only in my free time here and there – a few minutes before lunch at work, after I get home at night, and on weekends.

Recently, I have been trying to determine what exactly it is that I have to offer, and therefore what this blog should be about. My most popular link so far was this funny cat video I came across on a Saturday night and embedded; next was this bit of electoral analysis which has proved remarkably prescient, especially in its title “The Beginning of the End of Hillary 2008”; then comes this uneven piece on the rhetoric used in the debate on what to do about terrorists and terrorism. As you go further down the list, there is one piece of pop-political-philosophy discussing the differences between two libertarian-minded political trends; a mention of Chris Rock’s comments introducing Obama with related video; the contrasting stories of the interrogation of two Al Qaeda related prisoners in the aftermath of September 11; and a video of a cheerleader getting trampled by a football team. The posts cover a wide range – from clear fluff to horse-race analysis of the presidential campaigns to more serious discussions of issues.

What is it that I have to offer?

Given my position – having a full-time job and blogging on the side – I cannot do what I would most want to do, in-depth first person research on every topic. ((I am trying to do this though, and to do it more – sending emails, letters, and in other ways trying to contact the subjects of my pieces; and also trying to get more information in this way.)) But I think there are other things I have to offer. I am a voracious consumer of media – especially about news and politics. I listen to many unedited candidate and policy-maker speeches. ((Through C-Span, the Constitution Center, and the Council of Foreign Relations primarily.)) I care deeply about a number of issues and follow them closely in the news including the issue of liberty in America today, the fate of Pakistan, the attempt to create a practical and moral foreign policy, and the construction of a strategy to wage a smart and effective War on Terror. I read opinions from a broad political spectrum, and take them seriously. Or at least most of them. I have read books by Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Barry Goldwater, as well as books by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and I regularly read both conservative and liberal blogs and magazines, as well as some radicals that are not so easily classified. ((I believe there is a third way in politics – but that neither Bill Clinton nor his wife have found it, relying instead on cynical triangulation and the papering over of large differences with clever rhetoric.)) I believe I have generally sound judgment and a sense of the political winds, as well as a unique and insightful views on current events.

So what I have to offer is this: a funny video every Saturday; analysis of where the politics is headed in the near and slightly-less-near future; and serious policy discussion (leavened with some humor).

What this blog is about

There is one issue which above all shapes my thoughts today and is the impetus behind this blog: the precariousness of the American experiment. I am convinced that America’s status as a liberal ((In the classical sense.)) democratic republic is in existential danger. This danger is not only from terrorism, but from our government’s response to terrorism. I have come to believe that the Bush administration has undermined and subverted many of the institutions and ideas that have kept executive power in check since our founding: the media, the Supreme Court, the independence of executive agencies, the military, the Congress, and the rule of law. At the same time, the Bush administration has posited monarchical powers for the presidency, they have been relatively reticent in using them. ((Only relative to what they have asserted is their power. For example, the Bush administration has asserted that it does not need Congressional approval to go to war, but it still asked for it.)) For example, while Bush has asserted the authority to declare any person a terrorist and enemy combatant and hold them secretly and indefinitely without trial or charge and torture them for information, and given such a broad definition of terrorism as to include anyone who even criticizes him, he does not seem to have used this power to the extent he has asserted he can. This has led many people to see the rhetoric of those raising the alarm about these issues as unhinged from the reality of their lives. But because Bush has asserted such powers and undermined every check on his power, we are closer than ever to a police state.

Let me be clear – I think in every practical sense, America today is far from a police state. But with the theoretical foundations laid down by this administration, and the subversion of any check on executive power, we seem to be only one 9/11 away from a fall from authentic liberal democracy. It is this concern that is the prism which affects how I see every issue: it is why I became a Barack Obama supporter; why I am afraid of Rudy Giuliani; why I am so opposed to torture; why I am so concerned about our strategy in the War on Terrorism; why I started this blog; and why I will continue to write and seek other ways to affect America’s fate.

Election 2008 Obama Politics

The moment is now…

Oprah introducing Barack a few hours ago:

“There are those who say that Barack Obama should wait his turn. There are those who say that he should take a gradual approach to presidential leadership, but none of us is God,” Ms. Winfrey said. “We don’t know what the future holds, so we must respond to the pressures and the fortunes of history when the moment strikes. And Iowa, I believe that moment is now.”

With that, Mr. Obama took the stage.

Election 2008 History Politics

It is not enough to have every intelligent person in the country voting for me…

Adlai Stevenson campaign poster

[digg-reddit-me] It is not enough to have every intelligent person in the country voting for me. I need a majority.

Perhaps that quote helps explain why Adlai Stevenson lost two presidential races.
Either because:

  1. His casual arrogance alienated many people; or
  2. People were too stupid to vote for him.

Either way, it’s a quote that has some bearing on how this coming election will turn out, as many people question whether a majority of the country, having voted for Bush, is capable to making an intelligent decision about who should clean up Bush’s numerous messes.

Election 2008 Obama Politics

Hillary v. Barack, Third Grade Edition

[digg-reddit-me]I’m now realizing some people might not have been following this as closely as I have.

In mid-November, Obama unveiled this indirect attack on Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush:

“I’m not in this race to fulfill some long-held plan or because it was owed to me…”

Hillary responded in a number of ways – suggesting she had really bad dirt on Obama that she was choosing not to leak ((It turned out to be a land deal that

Finally, earlier this week, Hillary released a press release citing an essay Obama wrote as a kindegardener, another essay from third grade, and a quote from one of his law school acquaintances, all suggesting that Obama was planning to run.  The section on third grade read as follows:

In third grade, Senator Obama wrote an essay titled ‘I Want To Be a President.’ His third grade teacher: Fermina Katarina Sinaga “asked her class to write an essay titled ‘My dream: What I want to be in the future.’ Senator Obama wrote ‘I want to be a President,’ she said.” [The Los Angeles Times, 3/15/07]

After being ridiculed about the matter for a day, Clinton’s top pollster and adviser, Mark Penn stated that the press release was just a joke.  No one seems to have quite believed that, but that’s the current state of affairs.

Brian Duffy of the Des Moines Register had this response to Hillary’s inane use of Obama’s third grade essay:

Hillary and Barack in Third Grade
via Andrew Sullivan

Forthcoming in the next few days, my take on “Libertarian Liberalism” following up the lib•er•tar•ian: Ron Paul libertarians vs. Daily Kos libertarians piece that got some attention two weeks ago. (Also, the reason for my slow blogging recently.)

Election 2008 Giuliani New York City Politics

Giuliani: There is something deranged about you…

[digg-reddit-me]Worth revisiting as long as Giuliani is still in the presidential race is this bizarre rant against a ferret owner protesting the city’s ban on the pets. The clip is from 1999 when Rudy was mayor of New York and dropping fast in opinion polls.

In an unrelated note, here is the definition of the psychological term “projection”, which is related to the Orwellian technique of transference that George Soros attributed to Giuliani a few days ago.”Projection” is defined as a defense mechanism in which one attributes to others one’s own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts or/and emotions. Projection is commonly associated with paranoid personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and psychopathy. It’s not as if Giuliani (TM) ((Yes, Giuliani has also trademarked his name.))has ever been described as a paranoid, narcissistic jerk though.

Do any of these characteristics remind you of anyone? A selective list of some symptoms of these disorders ((I know there are going to be some who say all politicians have all of these characteristics. To some extent this is true, but most of these characteristics can be balanced in a healthy personality. Ambition and confidence can be good; a grandiose sense of self-importance ends up being destructive.)):


  • Is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends or associates
  • Is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against him or her
  • Persistently bears grudges, i.e., is unforgiving of insults, injuries, or slights
  • Perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack


  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • A strong sense of entitlement
  • Arrogant behavior


  • Tendency to violate the rights and boundaries of others (property, physical, sexual, emotional, legal)
  • Aggressive, often violent behavior
  • Disregard for the safety of self or others
  • Lack of remorse for hurting others
  • Superficial charm
  • Impulsiveness
  • A sense of extreme entitlement


  • Superficial charm and good “intelligence”.
  • Untruthfulness and insincerity.
  • Lack of remorse or shame.
  • Antisocial behavior without apparent compunction.
  • Poor judgment and failure to learn from experience.
  • Pathological egocentricity and incapacity to love.
Domestic issues Foreign Policy Politics Roundup

Two articles to mull over

World War III

Ron Rosenblum had this must-read article about World War III over at Slate magazine this weekend.

I think this is the urgent debate question that should be posed to both parties’ candidates. What happens if Pakistan falls into the hands of al-Qaida-inclined elements? What happens if Musharraf hands over the launch authorization codes before he’s beheaded?

Don’t kid yourself: At this very moment, there’s a high probability that this scenario is being wargamed incessantly in the defense and intelligence ministries of every nuclear nation, most particularly the United States, Russia, and Israel.

War is just a shot away, a well-aimed shot at Musharraf. But World War III? Not inevitably. Still, in any conflict involving nukes, the steps from regional to global can take place in a flash. The new “authorized” users of the Islamic bomb fire one or more at Israel, which could very well retaliate against Islamic capitals and perhaps bring retaliation upon itself from Russia, which may have undeclared agreements with Iran, for instance, that calls for such action if the Iranians are attacked.

If Pakistan is the most immediate threat, U.S., Israeli, and Iranian hostilities over Iranian bomb-making may be the most likely to go global. That may have been what the “very senior” British official was talking about when he said the Israeli raid on Syria brought us “close … to a third world war.” Iranian radar could easily have interpreted the Israeli planes as having its nuclear facilities as their target. On Nov. 21, Aviation Week reported online that the United States participated in some way in the Israeli raid by providing Israel information about Syrian air defenses. And Yossi Melman, the intelligence correspondent with Haaretz, reported a few days later that—according to an Israeli defense specialist—the raid wasn’t about a nuclear reactor but something more “nasty and vicious,” a plutonium assembly plant where plutonium, presumably from North Korea, was being processed into Syrian bombs.

How America Lost the War on Drugs

Ben Wallace-Wells meanwhile wrote this instant Pulitze prize contender for Rolling Stone on “How America Lost the War on Drugs” with the subhead: “After Thirty-Five Years and $500 Billion, Drugs Are as Cheap and Plentiful as Ever: An Anatomy of a Failure.”

On anti-drug advertisements

The ads, which ran under the slogan “The Anti-Drug,” had been designed by a committee of academics who apparently believed that kids needed to be shown that not doing drugs could be fun too. In one characteristic spot, a pen draws an animated landscape, with a cartoon boy avoiding the advances of cartoon dealers before driving off into the distance with a cartoon dragon on a cartoon motorcycle. “My name is Brandon, and drawing is my anti-drug,” the narrator says sweetly. The commercials made abstinence seem so lame they could have been designed by the cartels…

On the escalating political rhetoric

[Bush’s drug czar] Walters called citizens who plant and tend marijuana gardens “terrorists who wouldn’t hesitate to help other terrorists get into the country with the aim of causing mass casualties.”

Ben Wallace-Wells’s conclusions

By virtually every objective measure, the White House had lost the War on Drugs. Last year, Walters boasted that drug use among teenagers has fallen since 2002 – ignoring the fact that overall drug use remains unchanged. The deeper problem is that the drug czar has stopped measuring anything other than drug use. During the 1990s, at the direction of Gen. McCaffrey, Carnevale had created a comprehensive system to measure whether we were winning the drug war. The system took into account drug price and availability in the United States, how difficult it was for drug smugglers to get their product into the country and the consequences of drug use on public health and crime. But Walters simply tossed out that system of evaluation – as well as the unflattering facts it highlighted. “Had we kept it,” Carnevale tells me, “we would see that the Bush administration has not made a positive impact on any of the measures.”

Most unexpectedly of all, crime – a problem that seemed to have been licked a decade ago – is beginning to creep back up. In October 2006, the Police Executive Research Forum released a report declaring that violent crime in the country was “accelerating at an alarming pace.” Murders were up twenty-seven percent in Boston over the previous year, sixty percent in San Antonio and more than 300 percent in Orlando. Even in the cloistered world of policing, complaints began to build about the numbers and about the cuts in federal funding. “The reality is a lot of police officers are politically conservative folks,” says Ron Brooks, the president of the National Narcotics Officers’ Association. “But there’s been a lack of leadership in this administration on this issue.”

Domestic issues Humor

Tim Meadows explains why pot is bad for you

A clip from Judd Apatow’s new film, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story with John C. O’Reilly and Tim Meadows.[reddit-me] A spoof of Walk the Line, the film has cameos from Jack White as Elvis, Paul Rudd as John Lennon, Frankie Muniz as Buddy Holly.


Phone Sex

I’ll never think of that ring the same way again…[digg-reddit-me]