Politics

TGIF: Alito’s Challenge to Libertarians

In his recently leaked first draft of an opinion that would reverse the abortion-rights cases Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito gives Americans a choice between judges who read their personal preferences into the Constitution and judges who recognize only rights that they find “rooted in [our] history and tradition” and deem “essential to our Nation’s ‘scheme of ordered Liberty.'”

Is that it? Neither choice seems an adequate safeguard for individual freedom.

Whether one likes the result or not, Alito’s draft in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization raises important issues apart from abortion. Indeed, he unintendedly draws attention to whether the Constitution can be relied on to protect liberty. Unsurprisingly, Alito is not concerned with rights as a philosophical matter. That’s not his job. Rather, he’s concerned only with constitutional rights — liberties that satisfy criteria making them worthy of protection by the government. By that standard, an otherwise perfectly defensible right might not qualify. That would be left to the legislative process. That’s the constitutional game. The framers understood this, though some libertarians do not.

The Constitution may seem to clearly endorse a general notion of liberty in the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, but does it really? Alito, like other conservatives, thinks not:

Historical inquiries … are essential whenever we are asked to recognize a new component of the “liberty” protected by the Due Process Clause because the term “liberty” alone provides little guidance. “Liberty” is a capacious term. As Lincoln once said: “We all declare for Liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing” In a well-known essay, Isaiah Berlin reported that “[h]istorians of ideas” had catalogued more than 200 different senses in which the terms had been used.

In interpreting what is meant by the Fourteenth Amendment’s reference to “liberty,” we must guard against the natural human tendency to confuse what that Amendment protects with our own ardent views about the liberty that Americans should enjoy. That is why the Court has long been “reluctant” to recognize rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution.

So, Alito writes elsewhere in his opinion, “[G]uided by the history and tradition that map the essential components of our Nation’s concept of ordered liberty, we must ask what the Fourteenth Amendment means by the term ‘liberty’ when the issue involves putative rights not named in the Constitution” — such as a woman’s putative right terminate a pregnancy.

Note that Alito uses the term ordered liberty. That’s a concept in the case law, apparently first enunciated in 1937, that “sets limits and defines the boundary between competing interests.” Why must the term liberty be so qualified? Because, he writes, “attempts to justify abortion [and other things –SR] through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s ‘concept of existence’ prove too much. Those criteria, at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like. None of these rights has any claim to being deeply rooted in history.”

If that counts as “proving too much,” libertarians would say let’s do it.

Alito hastens to add that other court-protected rights that are not deeply rooted in history — such as the rights to contraception, interracial marriage, and same-sex marriage — are not jeopardized by his opinion because abortion is unique. How confident can others be about that?

Putting on his historian’s hat, Alito accuses the majority in Roe of misstating history and writes that abortion even at an early stage was never regarded as a right in Anglo-American common or statutory law and was generally illegal throughout the United States. Not everyone agrees with Alito’s historical account.

Alito asserts that when justices ignored history, they engaged in “the freewheeling judicial policymaking that characterized discredited decisions such as Lochner v. New York.” That was the highly influential 1905 case in which the Court struck down a state law limiting the hours that bakers could work per day and per week because the law violated freedom of contract under the 14th Amendment. Progressives hated the ruling from the start, but some conservatives later came to hate it too because it relied on the concept of substantive due process, by which judges could invent rights that conservatives abhorred. Libertarians also ought to have apprehensions about substantive due process. Such seemingly benign legal notions, including “unenumerated rights,” are double-edged swords.

The juridical problem in distinguishing putative rights that are constitutionally protected from those that are not is that no constitution could name more than a few rights. Where does that leave all the rights left out? (We could say there is only one right, namely, the right not to be subjected to aggression, and that anything more specific rights are examples of the principle. But that would incite a never-ending controversy over what constitutes aggression.)

The Ninth Amendment, which says that rights not mentioned were still retained by the people, seemed to be the solution to the problem. That amendment has not played an important role in constitutional law to the frustration of libertarians, but danger lies in that amendment if it were to be taken seriously. The danger is that pseudo-rights could be embraced by Supreme Court justices. Rights theory is like a butterfly. You may lovingly nurture the egg, larva, and pupa, but once the butterfly emerges from the cocoon, it will fly where it likes or be blown about by the wind, logic or no logic. (It’s been pointed out that the Bill of Rights has turned out to be a tragic distraction. Instead of the government having the burden of justifying any power it wishes to exercise, the people have had to justify any claimed right by finding supporting text in the Bill of Rights. Maybe we’d have been better off without it.)

It’s tempting for each of us to think that our own theory of rights or liberty just happens to be the one that perfectly aligns with the intent of the framers or with the common understanding of the constitutional text in 1789. But how likely is that? The framers didn’t agree philosophically on everything and people often understand words and sentences differently among themselves. In other words, originalism isn’t a neat solution.

As noted, Alito’s alternative to judges who impose their personal views about liberty is judges who stick exclusively to rights deeply rooted in the country’s history and tradition. But this is also unsatisfying because it imprisons us in the thinking of long-dead individuals whose understanding of liberty might have been incomplete. Why assume that the framers understood every implication of the nature of freedom? As Thomas Paine wrote in The Rights of Man:

There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the “end of time,” or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it; and therefore all such clauses, acts or declarations by which the makers of them attempt to do what they have neither the right nor the power to do, nor the power to execute, are in themselves null and void…. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accommodated.

It’s true that constitutions can be amended and the framers’ shortcomings addressed, but that process is always costly and difficult. In the meantime, people suffer from the deprivation of their liberty.

Alito’s choice between the alternatives is clear, but the Constitution contains no guide to interpretation. Even if it did, how would that help? Any guide to interpretation would itself be open to interpretation. We’d end up with an infinite series of guides.

So where does that leave us? Apparently with two choices: an un-elected national super-legislature free to invent rights or a federal court guided by an emaciated, tradition-bound notion of liberty and unchained state legislatures free to grant (revocable) “rights” by majority vote. Neither seems ideal, but the ideal seems not to be on the menu today. I recorded my thoughts on perhaps the short-term second-best solution in “Disagreement without Conflict.”

(See my book America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited.)

‘America First’ Means Anti-Bush, Not Antiwar

Donald Trump, despite not being perfect (far from it), was useful in making the idea of chronic interventionism and foreign entanglements unpopular, but as much credit as the New Right is given, they are hardly antiwar. The New Right is largely a rejection of the moderates—the neoconservatives and neoliberals—and their exemplars, the Clintons, Cheneys, Bushes, and Romneys. There is certainly an aversion towards our involvement in the Middle East, with Trump telling Jeb Bush in 2016 that, “Your brother lied,” about WMDs in Iraq.

But while they may not be Middle East hawks like the neoconservatives, the New Right are warhawks in other areas and still kowtowing to foreign lobbies. In the White House Trump continued many conflicts, like his silent war in Somalia, launching missile attacks in Syria over false chemical weapon claims, and his veto of a bill that would end United States support in Yemen. The veto of that Yemen bill? Likely the result of his trade adviser Pete Navarro being lobbied by weapons companies. Like in Syria under Obama, the United States is also funding al-Qaeda extremists as part of arminging the Saudi-UAE Coalition in Yemen,which stands a massive contradiction.

Exempting the obvious contradictions in Donald Trump’s policies as president, the “America First” conservatives are hawks in their own right. Not towards Vladmir Putin’s Russia like the Democrats, or Middle East countries like Syria, but rather towards a power in Asia: the People’s Republic of China. Trump was often at odds with China, mostly on an economic level where he declared a trade war. This anti-Chinese rhetoric rotated around the Middle Kingdom being a threat to the United States and its allies militarily and robbing Americans blind economically.

While that could be an issue in and of itself to tackle, America First conservatives have jumped on the China rhetoric as opposition to anything the Democrats want to pass. Marjorie Taylor Green is fond of opposing Democratic spending plans based on her belief they’ll benefit China. She justified her position of non-interventionism in the Russia-Ukraine conflict by claiming that America needs to focus on possible conflict with Russia. Matt Gaetz has been blunt enough to tweet: “China is not our friend.”

The New Right also continues to call for boycotting prominent Chinese events such as the Beijing Olympics, citing claims of a Uyghur Muslim Genocide via rather flawed statistics. The Republicans have gone so far as to make the claim that America needs to further support Taiwan in case of a Chinese Invasion. Donald Trump continues to fearmonger threats of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. He defended his claims and thoughts by saying, “I do because they’re seeing how stupid the United States is run. They’re seeing that our leaders are incompetent. And of course, they’re going to do it. This is their time.” The further demand for economic protectionism and economic isolationism from China would only exacerbate the tension. As economist Frederic Bastiat described, “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.”

With supposed antiwar voices in a movement that agrees with the State Department assessment, “China being a threat to our Global Hegemony,” perhaps it is time to acknowledge that while it may be an improvement, the populist New Right is not truly antiwar. It is only a matter of time before warhawks are able to make their way into this new faction as they beat the drums to enter another conflict. If the America First conservatives want to be seen as truly antiwar then they must acknowledge the mistakes made by their leader when he was president as well as abandon the rhetoric that only fuels international tensions. To adapt an Ibram X. Kendi quote (to make it far more relevant): It is not enough to not be neoconservative; one must be actively antiwar.

Joe Biden Blames Everyone for Inflation (Except Himself)

Speaking at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, President Joe Biden on Tuesday morning declared inflation to be his top “domestic priority” and insisted that inflation would not be a problem were it not for covid and the war in Ukraine. There was little room, however, for any sound economics in a speech that was little more than a campaign speech for the ruling Democratic Party in an election year in which the party looks to take a beating at the ballot box.

In truth, it is the U.S. regime itself—and the regime’s central bank—that is the real cause of today’s galloping inflation. And even worse, neither the central bank nor the White House will admit its role or reverse course. Last week it was clear that Fed chairman Jerome Powell refuses to admit any role in today’s price inflation, and he apparently has no clue about what to do about it. This week, Biden insists his own government is blameless all while further pursuing regulation and taxes that will only make inflation worse.

It’s Putin’s Fault!

With inflation at forty-year highs, and with wages falling behind, Biden was careful Tuesday morning to spin inflation as the fault of anything and everything except the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve.

Specifically, Biden placed the blame of price inflation on COVID-19 and on “Mr. Putin” for the war in Ukraine. Biden claimed the covid disease itself—i.e., not the forced government lockdowns—has been to blame for logistical problems and shortages that have contributed to rising prices. Moreover, Biden blamed the war in Ukraine for increasing prices given Ukraine’s role as a grain-exporting nation and the current difficulty of exporting from war-torn regions.

Biden is correct in that these events have a role in raising some prices, but it is a straight-up lie to imply or state that logistics and grain-export problems are the main reasons for price inflation in the United States today.

The real cause of price inflation is monetary inflation, and monetary inflation has been on overdrive for more than a decade. Over the past two years, moreover, monetary inflation has accelerated to even more remarkably high levels.

Since 2009, the Federal Reserve, the U.S. regime’s central bank, has printed more than $8.9 trillion to buy up mortgage securities and government debt. This increased after 2020 as the Fed again accelerated purchases of government bonds in order to keep interest rates low on a national debt exploding upward.

In addition to that $8 trillion created out of thin air, the Fed also set the target federal funds rate to historic lows to add liquidity into the banking system. This encouraged commercial banks to further accelerate monetary inflation through the mechanisms of fractional reserve banking.

Today, $12 trillion of the existing $21 trillion was created after 2009. That means 60 percent of today’s entire M2 money supply was created in only the past fourteen years.

This wave of monetary creation has grown so immense that even International Monetary Fund economists can no longer deny the role of central banks in surging prices. IMF director Kristalina Georgieva last month admitted central banks globally “printed too much money and didn’t think of unintended consequences.”:

I think we are not paying sufficient attention to the law of unintended consequences. We take decisions with an objective in mind and rarely think through what may happen that is not our objective. And then we wrestle with the impact of it.

Take any decision that is a massive decision, like the decision that we need to spend to support the economy. At that time, we did recognize that maybe too much money in circulation and too few goods, but didn’t really quite think through the consequence in a way that upfront would have informed better what we do.

Without all this new money creation, the inflation we’re witnessing today would be impossible. This isn’t to say that we wouldn’t see some rising prices considering wars and China’s ongoing lockdowns. Those events certainly do drive up some prices.

But in an environment without constant monetary inflation perpetrated by central banks, inflation would not be general in the way it is now. Some prices would increase, but other prices would decline, as would make sense when the money supply is limited. There would only be so much money to go around so price inflation in some areas would be balanced by price deflation in others. But with monetary inflation running rampant, price inflation can do the same throughout the entire economy: more money is chasing goods and services.

Biden Is Making Price Inflation Worse by Hobbling Production

But even in time periods when monetary inflation is rampant, the effect on price inflation can be tempered by increased production and increased worker productivity. Specifically, improved technology, innovation, and international trade are all disinflationary forces that can make price inflation less bad.

The Biden administration, however, is currently waging war on innovation, productivity, and trade, and thus making price inflation even worse. In his Tuesday speech, Biden called for even more regulation on businesses and higher taxes. He wants more power to coerce businesses into higher fuel economy, and to mandate more electric vehicles. He wants to increase fees on oil and gas producers. He wants higher taxes on employers.

This will all only serve to cripple production and thus will put further upward pressure on price inflation.

As far as foreign production goes, the Biden administration has largely preserved the Trump administration’s antitrade innovations. Biden’s anti-Russia policies have also only served to further cripple international trade by imposing economic sanctions on nations—including those that have friendly relations with the U.S.—who consume critical Russian goods. This will be most disastrous for the poorest countries of the world, but American consumers will be impacted as well. (Gas prices in the US on Tuesday hit a new high.) As a result, the US has done much to raise energy and food prices worldwide while taking no steps at all to seek a diplomatic solution to the end of the war in Ukraine.

Americans now have the misfortune of living under a regime that relentlessly inflates the money supply while working to cripple production. This is a recipe for ongoing inflation in both assets and consumer goods.

But you won’t hear anything about this from the White House. Last year, the inflation culprit was “greed,” which supposedly prompted corporations to raise prices. (Why inflation-casing greed suddenly became far worse in 2021 is never explained.) Now, Putin provides a convenient scapegoat. For the past six months, the regime has repeatedly groped around for whatever bogeyman could be blamed—so long as the central bank remains blameless.

This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.

TGIF: NATO and Collective Insecurity

Collective security, the official goal of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, seems plausible on its face. A group of nations ostensibly concerned about a common threat agree to defend one another in the event of an attack. “All for one and one for all,” as the Three Musketeers said.

But like many things, the principle, even if sincerely invoked, is more problematic than the first glance indicates. This is particularly true with governments, and in no area more so than foreign policy and armed forces. Schoolyard analogies involving bullies do not hold.

NATO was established soon after World War II ostensibly to keep the Soviet Union from overrunning Western Europe. The Red Army was present in Eastern and Central Europe, including eastern Germany, having driven back the Wehrmacht in the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany. It is by no means clear that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin aspired to have his armed forces conquer Western Europe, and his doctrine of “socialism in one country,” which suggests a conservative foreign policy, hardly supports a militarily aggressive posture toward the West. For one thing, the Soviet Union was exhausted from the savage war — it lost well over 20 million military personnel and civilians — and was hardly in a position to begin a new one against the Americans.

While many American politicians, fearing a return of the prewar public sentiment against foreign intervention, spoke of a Soviet threat, not all agreed. The influential Republican senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, whom I will discuss below, questioned the consensus and thus the official premise of the Cold War.

On April 4, 1949, 12 countries — the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland — signed the treaty that created NATO. (The Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union’s counter-alliance with the Eastern European countries it occupied, would not be founded for another six years.) Since 1998, 18 more countries have joined NATO, for a total of 30, including former Warsaw Pact members and the former Soviet Baltic republics that border Russia — with the predicted disastrous consequences. (Austria is not a member, having agreed to neutrality in 1955, in return for the Soviet withdrawal. West Germany became a member in 1955, and then a reunified Germany became a member in 1990 as the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact were being dismantled.)

The heart of the treaty, the “all for one and one for all” provision, is Article 5:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.  [Emphasis added.]

Note the italic phrase: in the event of an attack on a member, each other member will assist by taking “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.” Strangely, this clearly provided wiggle room is never mentioned in the news commentaries about NATO and the Russia-Ukraine war. Why would that be? The reason for the hedge was that, in light of the constitutional delegation of the war power exclusively to Congress, the Senate would have had a problem ratifying a treaty that obligated the country to go to war automatically. (Ironically, President Truman went to war in Korea, which was not a NATO member, without a declaration of war. He called it a “police action.”)

The Senate ratified the NATO treaty 82-13 on July 21, 1949. Among those who voted nay was Sen. Taft. Who was he and what were the grounds for his vote?

Taft was the elder son of the late President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft. Sen. Taft had earlier voted to approve U.S. entry into the United Nations but doubted it would be effective, among other reasons, because, of the veto power held by the five permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China.

Because of the influence and respect he had earned, Taft became known as Mr. Republican and was the Senate majority leader at the beginning of the Eisenhower administration, from January 3 to July 31, 1953, when he died. He had tried for the Republican presidential nomination three times, in 1940, 1948, and 1952, but failed because the Republican establishment had committed itself to bipartisan multilateral internationalism. As a principled noninterventionist, Taft had no chance.

Earlier, Taft had spoken against U.S. entry into World War II, having witnessed firsthand the unprecedented horrendous destruction and tyrannical aftermath of the first world war, propelled by U.S. intervention under President Wilson. Like other antiwar Republicans, Taft ended his opposition to entry into World War II after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. (He objected to President Roosevelt’s shameful internment of Japanese-Americans beginning in 1942, which the Supreme Court later endorsed.)

Taft’s opponents smeared him as an isolationist, an unfair charge. His default position was against U.S. foreign military intervention because he feared it would lead to war, a loss of American liberty and economic stability, constitutionally compromising alliances, and foreign resentment of America. On the other hand he supported an internationally administered rule of law, complete with a court and enforcement mechanism, to protect smaller, weaker nations from domination. That regime, however, would have had no power to meddle in the internal affairs of nations. Taft did favor giving Western Europe assurances regarding a Soviet military threat. (More below.) Taft also voted for, after initially opposing, both Truman’s postwar military aid to Turkey and Greece and the Marshall Plan for Western Europe.)

He also opposed the U.S. government’s encouragement of American investment in other countries because he foresaw that it would lead to imperialism, again, creating resentment against America. Taft thought the United States should set an example by protecting its own freedom, not by imposing values on others. Taft, who disliked the label conservative, which he associated with the plutocracy, was not a consistent libertarian, but it’s clear that individual liberty and the imperative to limit centralized bureaucratic power topped his political values. For that reason he inspired several future libertarian stalwarts, including Murray Rothbard, Ralph Raico, and Leonard Liggio, to join Youth for Taft when the senator ran, unsuccessfully, against Dwight Eisenhower for the 1952 Republican nomination.

On April 12, 1949, Truman in a speech to the Senate urged ratification of the North Atlantic treaty, expressing the official line: “The security and welfare of each member of the community depend upon the security and welfare of all.”

In opposing NATO, Taft gave a speech to the Senate on July 26, 1949. In it he criticized the alliance system for, among other things, subordinating U.S. foreign policy to the policies of the other member nations, which might unjustifiably provoke an attack. Note its current relevance:

[T]he Atlantic Pact goes much further. It obligates us to go to war if at any time during the next 20 years anyone makes an armed attack on any of the 12 nations. Under the Monroe Doctrine we could change our policy at any time. We could judge whether perhaps one of the countries had given cause for the attack. Only Congress could declare a war in pursuance of the doctrine. Under the new pact the President can take us into war without Congress. But, above all the treaty is a part of a much larger program by which we arm all these nations against Russia…. A joint military program has already been made…. It thus becomes an offensive and defensive military alliance against Russia. I believe our foreign policy should be aimed primarily at security and peace, and I believe such an alliance is more likely to produce war than peace. A third world war would be the greatest tragedy the world has ever suffered. Even if we won the war, we this time would probably suffer tremendous destruction, our economic system would be crippled, and we would lose our liberties and free system just as the Second World War destroyed the free systems of Europe. It might easily destroy civilization on this earth…[Emphasis added.]

Taft continued (again note the relevance):

If we undertake to arm all the nations around Russia from Norway on the north to Turkey on the south, and Russia sees itself ringed about gradually by so-called defensive arms from Norway and. Denmark to Turkey and Greece, it may form a different opinion. It may decide that the arming of western Europe, regardless of its present purpose, looks to an attack upon Russia….

How would we feel if Russia undertook to arm a country on our border; Mexico, for instance?

He also said America could not afford the foreign policy of which NATO is a part.:”we can’t let them [the Russian and Chinese communists ] scare us into bankruptcy and the surrender of all liberty, or let them determine our foreign policies…. If the President is unwilling to recommend more taxes for fear of creating a depression, then we must have reached the limit of our taxpaying ability and we ought not to start a new and unnecessary building project….”

And more: NATO “is a step backward — a military alliance of the old type where we have to come to each others’ assistance no matter who is to blame, and with ourselves the judges of the law.”

From his prominent position, Taft made sure the public would hear a debate about postwar foreign policy. The bipartisan establishment surely would have preferred he had not done so.

As he prepared to run for the 1952 Republican presidential nomination, he published his book A Foreign Policy for Americans, in which he called for American “moral leadership” rather than imperial domination:

I do not think this moral leadership justifies engaging in any preventive war, or going to the defense of one country against another, or getting ourselves in a vulnerable fiscal and economic position at home which may invite war. I do not believe any policy which has behind it the threat of military force is justified as part of the basic foreign policy except to defend the liberty of our own people.

For some time now, American foreign policy has been sadly contrary to Taft’s advice. The price measured in lives and treasure, for Americans and non-Americans, is beyond measure. Taft would be horrified but not surprised by what NATO has wrought and by what is happening today.

Further reading:

“The Republican Road Not Taken: The Foreign-Policy Vision of Robert A. Taft” by Michael T. Hayes, Independent Review, Spring 2004

“New Deal Nemesis: The ‘Old Right’ Jeffersonians by Sheldon Richman, Independent Review, Fall 1996

Smear Bund Labels House GOP Dissenters ‘Pro-Putin’

While legislation aimed at Russia has been overwhelmingly passing through Congress, each bill has seen “no” votes from a small handful of Republicans in the House. The opposition to the measures has led to Democrats smearing the GOP members as “pro-Putin.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) is the only House member to vote against every piece of legislation targeting Russia, including a resolution expressing support for Ukraine that was voted on shortly after the invasion began. Massie, Rep. Gosar (R-AZ), and Rep. Rosendale (D-MT) were the only ones to vote against the resolution, which was passed on March 2.

Explaining his opposition to the resolution, Massie said the call to provide Ukraine with “defensive security assistance” was too open-ended. “This term is so broad that it could include American boots on the ground or, as some of my colleagues have already requested, US enforcement of a no-fly zone,” he wrote on Twitter.

The resolution also called for “fully isolating” Russia’s economy, which Massie warned could also hurt the U.S. economy. Other lawmakers expressed this sentiment when they voted against a bill banning the import of Russian oil, which reinforces an executive order signed by President Biden. Two Democrats, Reps. Ilhan Omar (MN) and Cori Bush (MO), joined a group of Republicans in voting against the oil ban.

Massie and Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) were the only House members to vote against a bill that downgrades Russia’s trade status. The legislation and the oil ban come as Americans are facing soaring gas prices and inflation. President Biden has admitted that the sanctions campaign against Russia will hurt the U.S. and Europe and even warned of “real” food shortages.

On Wednesday night, the House passed a bill directing the U.S. government to collect evidence of alleged Russian war crimes to facilitate international trials. Massie, Greene, and four other Republicans voted against the legislation.

Explaining his vote on Twitter, Massie wrote: “Some of my colleagues and I voted against this resolution in part because it contains language that could set the table for bringing spurious war crimes charges against American service members for mistakes made during military operations in theaters such as Afghanistan.”

Despite Massie’s reasoning, Democrats jumped on the war crimes vote to smear the GOP members. “The GOP’s Pro-Putin faction is anti-democratic,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wrote on Twitter. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney said that “Democrats stand with Ukraine” while “Republicans are Putin-curious.” Last week, Rep. Hakeem Jefferies claimed there was a “pro-Putin caucus” among Republicans.

Similarly, former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who served as a Democrat, came under fire when she raised concerns over the US-funded biological labs inside Ukraine, which Pentagon officials have admitted could contain Soviet-era bioweapons. For raising the concerns, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) smeared Gabbard as a “treasonous liar.”

This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.

TGIF: In Defense of Ideology

The seemingly unprecedented mean-spiritedness of politics these days drives some people to think that ideology is the problem. To distinguish themselves from those whom they blame for the toxic atmosphere, some pundits declare themselves “above ideology,” even anti-ideology. In effect they say, self-righteously: “In contrast to those ‘extremists’ (that is, the ideologues) I judge each issue case by case by its own merits. I’m a pragmatist.” This is intended to display open-mindedness and a willingness to cooperate with those they disagree with. Cooperation is held to be a virtuous end in itself as long as it is presented as a pursuit of “good government.”

That may be an understandable reaction to unpleasant shouting and name-calling, but it’s nonetheless a mistake. No one can escape ideology, and actions taken in the name of avoiding ideology may have unintended, though not unforeseeable, bad consequences for society.

Googling the word ideology brings this definition: “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.” Ideology, then, is a subset of philosophy that addresses a combination of ethics and politics; it denotes a person’s sense of right and wrong interpersonally, particularly regarding a matter of paramount importance: when the state may use force against persons whom it has no reason to believe have aggressed against others.

It’s been said that everyone has a philosophy whether he knows it or not. The only question is whether that philosophy is explicit or implicit, accepted with care or in a slipshod way. The same can be said of ideology. It’s an obligation of responsible adulthood to be clear with oneself about how one makes political decisions. But one way or another, everyone has a method of doing so.

This becomes apparent as soon as one examines what it would mean to judge each issue on its own merits case by case. Can we even make sense of that procedure? After all, what are merits, and how does one recognize them when considering a concrete issue?

Look at it in a nonpolitical context. I am walking down a street full of people. Should I steal that person’s wallet? No? Why not, and if not, how about that person over there? Is the decision arbitrary? How could it be? I must have some reason for robbing only some people (say, the ones who appear too weak to resist) or no one at all — ever.

People seem to realize this. Despite what they may say, they judge individual cases not “on their own merit” but according to an explicit or implicit measuring stick. We call that having principles. Having principles that transcend individual cases is contrary to judging situations case by case. It requires that one inquire whether, by some standard or other, a given case is significantly like other cases. Some people might think they don’t do that, but they’re mistaken. It would be impossible to face every situation as though it were unique without context and unrelated to anything else one has experienced or is otherwise familiar with.

Of course people are capable of suspending their typical principles in a given case; nothing is easier than rationalization. But that simply indicates that their implicit principles allow for the suspension. That license to suspend, which must contain an indicator for when the suspension is appropriate, is also part of their implicit or explicit philosophy.

Turning to politics, if a person thinks that in some cases state action is good, that implies a view of the state and the nature of its relationship to people, however vague that may be. That’s an ideology.

Imagine the person who flips a coin to decide whether the state should act or not. Would such a person be above ideology? No. That would also be an (idiotic) ideology. It can’t be escaped. The same goes for the person who endorses state action when he likes its sponsor and who opposes state action when he dislikes its sponsor.

The problem isn’t ideology in itself but the merits or lack thereof of any given ideology. We judge ideologies according to our moral principles, which themselves may be explicit or implicit. That’s also true of people who claim to rely on their feelings, which also are based on earlier accepted philosophical judgments, again, explicit or implicit.

The anti-ideologues often fault ideologues for refusing to compromise. This rankles them because they subscribe to the view that politics is the art of compromise. But a willingness to compromise is not an unconditional virtue. It all depends on what we’re talking about. Ayn Rand put it well:

It is only in regard to concretes or particulars, implementing a mutually accepted basic principle, that one may compromise. For instance, one may bargain with a buyer over the price one wants to receive for one’s product, and agree on a sum somewhere between one’s demand and his offer. The mutually accepted basic principle, in such case, is the principle of trade, namely: that the buyer must pay the seller for his product. But if one wanted to be paid and the alleged buyer wanted to obtain one’s product for nothing, no compromise, agreement or discussion would be possible, only the total surrender of one or the other.

There can be no compromise between a property owner and a burglar; offering the burglar a single teaspoon of one’s silverware would not be a compromise, but a total surrender—the recognition of his right to one’s property.

Things are the same in the political context. Everything the government does requires the use of force against innocent people if for no other reason than that government gets its money through taxation, the politicians’ method of extortion. (Try telling the taxman you’d rather not pay this year.) An alleged compromise between someone who favors a particular tax or regulation and someone who opposes it is not really a compromise at all. The principle of countenancing legal extortion and regulation of peaceful conduct either wins or loses. There is no in-between.

Much of the partisan and doctrinal rancor we see in politics is really just squabbling among people who share basic pro-plunder, pro-regulation principles. They merely argue over how the money should be used and whose conduct should be regulated. In many matters — foreign policy and domestic surveillance, for example — they don’t disagree at all.

But occasionally the contenders might represent contrary basic principles. So it’s understandable that they would refuse to compromise. Some things can’t be compromised. The problem here is the blunt instrument of the state, the tool that allows one group to impose burdens on others.

Finally, the anti-ideologues claim to admire those known as “centrists” because they purportedly work together in the spirit of cooperation, thereby delivering what they all call “good government.” As suggested above, such politicians are merely people who all share the same malign fundamental premises about the government, but since resources are limited relative to the politicians’ appetites, the centrists have to compromise on how to use them. They prefer getting something through cooperation rather than nothing through gridlock. They, in the favorite words of the anti-ideologues, “get things done.”

But is it really the case that centrists deliver good government? A few moments spent thinking about what the centrists have delivered decade after decade will answer the question. It is the bipartisan centrists who have routinely delivered foreign intervention, war, a humongous national debt, outrageous budget deficits, inflation, recession, mass domestic surveillance, the insidious prohibition of vice, and so much other bad stuff. Indeed, the centrists even gave us the Donald Trump, who won enough votes precisely because he crudely opposed the “adult” centrists who have been in charge and have messed things up so badly. If that’s not a damning indictment of centrism, I don’t know what is.

That leaves the question of what to do? As we’ve seen, bipartisanship screws the people, while hyperpartisanship pollutes the air. We do have an alternative: liberty. Let’s increasingly limit power while working to abolish it — leaving individuals free to arrange their own affairs in peaceful cooperation with others. It’s called the free market, or voluntary sector, and it encompasses so much more than commercial transactions. (See my “Disagreement without Conflict.”)

If power were unavailable to those who seek to impose burdens on other people, one source of public rancor would disappear. Live and let live would be realized.

TGIF: Joe Biden, What the Hell?

What’s going on with Joe Biden? Is he oblivious to the fact that Russia has about as many strategic nuclear weapons as the United States has? Is he taking advice from the neocons, who apparently believe that we should not fear a nuclear holocaust because that’s exactly what Vladimir Putin wants us to do? (I presume Putin also wants us to believe that the earth is round. Should we give that up too?)

How else to explain Biden’s astounding statements in recent days, particularly while meeting with NATO representatives in Brussels and with U.S. troops in Poland? That’s right: 9,000 U.S. troops are now in southeast Poland, not far from the Ukrainian border. Poland of course is a member of NATO, which means that if Poland clashes with Russia, the U.S. government has treaty obligations to its ally. To be clear, here’s Article 5, which embodies the principle that NATO describes as being “at the very heart” of the treaty”:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. [Emphasis added to indicate ambiguity in the provision that isn’t often acknowledged.]

Are Biden’s off-the-cuff-and-wall remarks signs of dementia? Or are they just the Bidenesque “Kinsley gaffes” we’ve become accustomed to? (A Kinsley gaffe occurs when someone important speaks his mind when he or his handlers know he shouldn’t.)

By now, Biden’s irresponsibly provocative remarks have made the rounds. He has said that Russia’s use of chemical weapons in Ukraine would bring a NATO response, but left the nature of the response vague. His administration seems to be shying away from explicitly declaring “red lines.”

And yet, when ABC News asked Biden, “If chemical weapons were used in Ukraine could that trigger a military response from NATO?” Biden responded, “It would trigger a response in kind. Whether or not — you’re asking whether NATO would cross — we’d make that decision at the time.” (Emphasis added.)

Say what? Response in kind? Does that mean he might order a chemical-weapons counterattack?

As others have pointed out, even a de facto red line is an invitation for a false-flag attack in which a Ukrainian group, hoping to bring NATO into the fight, would use chemical weapons while making the perpetrator appear to be Russian. This sort of thing seems likely to have happened in Syria.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky is still lobbying for even more NATO intervention (in addition to arms and sanctions) in the form of a no-fly zone, which is now called “close the sky.” The shameless public appeal includes this video, with the lyric “If you don’t close the sky/I will die.” The lyricist neglected to point out that if the sky is closed and the U.S. Air Force shoots down a Russian jet, we all could die in a nuclear exchange.

Biden still says no to closing the sky, but if he started saying the opposite, who’d be surprised?

As everyone knows, while abroad Biden also seemed to call for regime change in Russia with this ad-lib: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” History teaches that implied policies such as that do not facilitate ceasefires and peace. The Gaffer-in-Chief and his people tried to walk it back, but the attempts were lame. “I was expressing the moral outrage that I feel,” he said while insisting he wasn’t walking back his statement, “and I make no apologies for it.” (American presidents are always morally outraged whenever countries they don’t like do what the U.S. government regularly does.)

A White House official dutifully insisted that what his boss meant “was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.” If you buy that, they have a bridge you might be interested in.

Biden also appeared to tell U.S. troops stationed near the Ukrainian border in Poland that they would soon be in the war zone and that in fact some have already been on the other side of the border: “You’re going to see when you’re there, and some of you have been there, you’re gonna see — you’re gonna see women, young people standing in the middle — in front of a damned tank just saying, ‘I’m not leaving, I’m holding my ground.’”

In clarification mode, Biden explained that the words when you’re there referred to the training of Ukrainian forces in Poland. Oh really? They’re going to see women and young people blocking Russian tanks in Poland? What’s he trying to tell us now?

The Deputy Assistant White House Gaffe-Follow-Upper quickly clarified, “The president has been clear we are not sending US troops to Ukraine and there is no change in that position.”

Yeah, yeah. So that means the guy’s head is full of cotton.

Finally, Biden amazingly said two important things about the sanctions he’s imposed on the Russians: first, that he never said the sanctions would force the Russian government to alter its Ukraine policy because he knew they wouldn’t have that effect, and second, that sanctions will create food shortages (and so higher prices) for Americans and by implication, other non-Russians the world over.

As to the first, that was an outright lie or a case of senility. A long list of administration officials did indeed say the sanctions would work. As to the second, how can Biden — father of noted entrepreneur Hunter Biden — justify making innocent people go hungry?

Given the two things Biden has admitted, what is the point of the sanctions? Does it make him feel better?

Joe Biden, what the hell?

Ron DeSantis, Champion of Liberty?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is now the political face of populist conservative opposition to U.S. COVID-19 policies.

Notably, he signed legislation to prohibit (1) private employer COVID-19 vaccination mandates, (2) government entities from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees, (3) educational institutions from requiring students to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, (4) school districts from requiring face masks for students and teachers, and (5) school districts from quarantining healthy students.

DeSantis has also spoken against the COVID-19 regime on numerous occasions, stating of the above legislation:

I’m signing up for protecting your freedom and making sure we have a society in Florida where people can make the best decisions for themselves and their families. And that’s what we’re doing by protecting against these mandates and making sure that’s done based on what people believe is best for them and their family, not something that is imposed either by government or in some instances by very powerful private entities.

Although some libertarians could quibble, inter alia, with DeSantis’ private employer vaccine prohibition, he has likely achieved more to shield his constituents from the COVID-19 regime than almost any other American politician. For that he deserves praise.

But, like any politician, his record is not without its blemishes. Lest we forget, DeSantis did lock Florida down.

On March 1, 2020, DeSantis declared a so-called “public health emergency” after just two cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Florida. Like other seemingly identical orders across the nation, DeSantis’ Order granted supreme government authority to the Florida State Health Officer to “take any action necessary to protect the public health.” The order directed the Florida Health Department to “actively monitor [read surveill and contact trace] at a minimum, all persons” meeting the CDC’s “Person Under Investigation” definition for a period of at least 14 days. It also permitted the Health Department to forcibly quarantine these individuals.

On March 17, 2020, DeSantis shut down all Florida bars and nightclubs for 30 days and extended school shutdowns. On March 24 and March 27, he issued orders requiring that travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut quarantine for 14 days. The March orders also directed the Florida Department of Transportation to establish highway checkpoints. These checkpoints were enforced by the Florida Highway Patrol in conjunction with the checkpoints’ respective county sheriff’s departments. Violators faced criminal penalties up to and including a $500 fine, no more than 60 days in jail, or both.

On April 29, 2020, DeSantis issued a “Safer At Home” Order, which directed at-risk individuals to stay at home. It also directed “all persons” in Florida to “limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home” to so-called “essential activities.” In commanding its citizens, the order used the obligatory directive “shall.”

Although DeSantis recently lamented his decision to lock Florida down, he nonetheless did. It is not enough to be correct in hindsight, one must be right in the critical moment.

DeSantis does deserve some credit for not locking down Florida as hard as other states, and for, at least rhetorically, deferring to localities in their respective COVID-19 responses. He is equally deserving of praise for his broader pushback against the COVID-19 regime.

The above aside, the danger of government-by-emergency should be noted as the principle tool of excoriating liberty. A willingness to lock Florida down in the first place is not emblematic of a principled stance against these so-called emergency powers.

Given the frightening global lock-step reaction to COVID-19, it admittedly may not be the most prudent time to critique Ron DeSantis. Conversely, he deserves praise for the positive steps he has taken to protect his constituents from the COVID-19 regime.

That said, DeSantis has already demonstrated his course of action in the fog of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. By his actions, he does not fundamentally disagree with the government’s ability to unilaterally seize emergency powers. It is more likely that resisting the COVID-19 regime became the most expedient avenue toward his political goals.

Indeed, neither is DeSantis fundamentally against the government’s power to surveil its subjects’ private medical information. In 2019, he signed into law a requirement that Florida doctors and nurses log all children’s vaccinations into a statewide database.

Like fellow populist Donald Trump, DeSantis also proselytizes the primary COVID-19 ritual. Since their availability, DeSantis has worked hard to market the COVID-19 vaccines to Floridians. In early 2021, he embarked on a vaccine crusade, speaking at vaccination sites across Florida. By April, he was celebrating the state’s success in selling the experimental pharmaceutical products to 7 million residents.

DeSantis is currently heralded as a clear Republican alternative to Donald Trump. In many aspects, he appears primed for a 2024 presidential bid. In this dire political climate, should advocates of liberty actively support DeSantis?

The answer lies in his real reasons for opposing the COVID-19 orthodoxy. Is he convinced by the data? Did he read the populist tea leaves? Either answer is simply not good enough.

As commander-in-chief, would DeSantis maintain his newfound, politically convenient stance against lockdowns? What if a new, more deadly virus emerged?

Further, how would DeSantis respond if a terrorist group released a deadly toxin in a major US city? What would his response be if a “Chinese cyber attack” knocked out the nation’s power grid? What would he do if Black Lives Matter began targeted assassinations across the country?

Would he continue to stand on the side of liberty? Or will voters be treated to more of the same?

As a word of caution, a certain legal doctrine comes to mind.

Caveat emptor. Buyer beware.

News

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