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:: The Rule of Reason ::

:: Saturday, March 28, 2009 ::

Freedom of Speech: Silence is Not Golden 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 12:41 PM

One demonstrable “toxic asset“ of the country‘s governing altruist philosophy comes in two forms: censorship and the “fairness doctrine,” or the suppression of free speech and its regulation. Of course, “regulated“ speech cannot be free, either; regulation is simply an overture to censorship. Call it “Censorship Lite.“ While in the economic realm the federal government is actively and noisily nationalizing the economy, the move to de facto censorship has recently bolted ahead, as well, from a fast walk to a gallop on padded hooves to better steal up on us and lop off our heads. Distracted by the gutting of Wall Street and the ongoing vilification of all business CEOs, and not just those who were seduced by the chance to profit from subprime mortgages, few people are paying attention to the peril in which their right to speak against Congress and the administration has been put.

The cyclone of legislation and engineered destruction of freedom and capitalism being whipped up by President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress (the Republicans, a.k.a. the GOP, or Grand Old Pathetics, as I am want to call them, no longer can be said to count for opposition to anything) cannot help but be accompanied by an aggressive assault on the freedom of speech to suppress all spoken and written dissent and opposition, to silence those whose ideas the administration and Congress do not want to hear and do not want others to hear. This assault represents the logical amalgamation of Left and Right.

Historically, and by necessity, one of the first casualties of a collectivist “revolution,” such as we are witnessing today, has been the free press by either its complete abolition or its takeover by the usurpers. The goal of such physical force serves a number of purposes: to silence those whose ideas are a threat to the totalitarians’ ideological and economic hegemony; to impose conformity on the public, and thus create a population of passive, yeah-saying or silent slaves; to regulate the minds of the public by suffocating them with propaganda and with a fear of the consequences of open, public dissent.

In such circumstances, the guiltiest party is a “free” press which voluntarily parrots the government line, either from agreement with the government’s ends or from ignorance. The American news media today can be charged with a combination of both offenses.

But Congress and the federal government are not the only parties stealing a march on the First Amendment of the Constitution. The Jerusalem Post of March 12 reported:

“The Islamic states circulated a new resolution at the current session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday that could criminalize defamation of Islam as a human rights violation and encourage the imposition of Sharia.

“According to the nonbinding governmental resolution, titled ‘Combating Defamation of Religions,’ anything deemed insulting to Islamic sensitivities would be banned as a ‘serious affront to human dignity’ and a blatant violation of religious freedom.”


The Post reports that the only religion named in the resolution is Islam.

Of course, given the moral relativism of the Obama administration (not to mention that of the Bush administration), such a “law” would be granted legitimacy if it ever came to having to take an official position on Islam. “Defaming” Islam by identifying its brutal, anti-mind nature, by cataloging the crimes committed in its name, by highlighting the Koran’s invitation to murder, genocide and enslavement, and by reporting its pathological hatred of freedom and free minds and its barbarous conduct towards its own adherents, can be deemed “criminal.” It is the brother of secular “hate speech.” And the fact that hate speech laws exist in several states and are condoned by the judiciary does not bode well for anyone who wishes to tackle the issue of jihad.

“Introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), it passed by a 108-51 margin, with 25 abstentions….The resolution decries ‘the negative projection of Islam in the media’ and voices ‘deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.’”


I cannot recall the last time any member of the news media “negatively projected” Islam. Nor can I recall the last time the news media reported any of Islam’s “human rights” violations, either abroad or here in the U.S., such as the “honor” killings of teenage girls who stray from the deadening Muslim subculture. The news media’s knee-jerk deference to all things Muslim is rooted in non-judgmental fear. The Western press has been intimidated and practices self-censorship. Pakistan is an alleged ally of the U.S. in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The resolution was also supported by our other “allies,” Egypt and Iraq. It is payback for all the billions of dollars in aid the U.S. has sent to those countries.

A more visceral method of censorship occurred in Fairfax County, Virginia, when over 600 Muslims packed an auditorium for a hearing of the county planning commission on whether or not to allow a Saudi Wahhabist school (or a mind-killing, anti-Western madrassa) to expand on property already leased to it by the county. The commissioners extended every courtesy to the Muslim mob, and none to the few who questioned the wisdom of allowing an incubator of jihad to grow in the “community,” who were bullied, shouted down, and surrounded by hostile Muslims with the sanction of the commissioners.

The Virginia of Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and James Madison -- the colony and state in the intellectual forefront of championing individual rights and limited government -- is not the Virginia that exists today. Its governor not only endorsed Obama and signed a bill banning smoking in bars and restaurants (in an exercise of eminent domain, or the partial seizure of property to benefit others), but went begging to Washington for a cut of the stimulus billions.

Here in the U.S., the federal government and its enablers in Congress are working frantically to suppress or discourage any kind of speech they deem “offensive” or “unfair.”

“Senior FCC staff working with acting Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps held meetings last week with policy and legislative advisers to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to discuss ways the committee can create openings for the FCC to put in place a form of the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ without actually calling it such.”


Waxman, one of the most power-lusting congressmen in politics, who also wants tobacco put under Food and Drug regulation, and who is practically a caricature of an Ayn Rand villain, “is also interested, say sources, in looking at how the Internet is being used for content and speech purposes.”

“One idea Waxman’s committee staff is looking at is a congressionally mandated policy that would require all TV and radio stations to have in place ‘advisory boards’ that would act as watchdogs to ensure ‘community needs and opinions’ are given fair treatment. Reports from those advisory boards would be used for license renewals and summaries would be reviewed at least annually by FCC staff.”


Those “advisory boards” would function as the Politburo did in Soviet Russia, to enforce compliance with federal criteria of what constituted “community needs” and to decide whose opinions were to be given “fair treatment.” (Are you ready for an all-Muslim version of “Dancing with the Stars” or a La Raza-approved interpretation of the Alamo?) Forgotten by the likely victims of this looming legislation is the fact that the FCC is already a component of the welfare state, having the authority to ration out the airwaves to the highest bidders and those with political pull in the name of “public service.”

The Internet poses a particular threat to the statists, because it can now replace not only newspapers and the airwaves, but serves as an alternative to those media for information, opinion, and objective journalism. The Waxman-Pelosi-Reid-Obama coalition and its allies wish to regulate it and tax it. The Internet cannot be controlled and taxed except by either the FCC or another, newer government body. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Outlook and other Internet “providers” or “common carriers” could be forced to have “advisory boards,” as well. And given their cooperation with totalitarian regimes such as China’s, not much opposition to regulation should be expected from them.

For an excellent comment on the rise and possible fate of the Internet under Obama, see C. August's Titanic Deck Chairs site here.

From rationing out the airwaves, a power it should not have, the government may be moving to rationing out newsprint.

“With many U.S. newspapers struggling to survive, a Democratic senator on Tuesday [March 24] introduced a bill to help them by allowing newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks.

“Cardin’s [Benjamin Cardin] Newspaper Revitalization Act would allow newspapers to operate as nonprofits for educational purposes under the U.S. tax code, giving them a similar status to public broadcasting systems [that is, to the various units of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting system, or PBS].”


There is an instance of beggar thy looting neighbor.

“Cardin’s office said his bill was aimed at preserving local and community newspapers, not conglomerates which may also own radio and TV stations. His bill would also let a nonprofit buy newspapers owned by a conglomerate.”


Except for government departments and agencies, big is always “bad.” And here is the logical catch to winning a government-granted “nonprofit” status:

“Under this arrangement, newspapers would still be free to report on all issues, including political campaigns. But they would be prohibited from making political endorsements. Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax-exempt, and contributions to support news coverage or operations could be tax deductible.”


And there you have it. Newspapers bailed out through the ruse of being dubbed “nonprofit” organizations would be required to gag themselves, in exchange for tax-exemptions on their revenue. The power to not tax can be as destructive as the power to tax, if the bribe or inducement is tempting enough to those who do not think ahead or who do not care to think at all. Of course, that would leave TV, radio, and the Internet as sources of news and opinions Americans want to search for, read or hear, and not what politicians and the government would prefer them to read or hear.

Theoretically, Americans would be compelled to listen to opposing viewpoints and opinions under a resuscitated “Fairness Doctrine,” a mongrel concept that purports to advance “diversity” in politics and culture but which was declared unconstitutional by the FCC in 1987 and abandoned. In reality, Americans would not listen to or watch what the government and “public service” advocates wished them to audit. The failure of Air America, a left-liberal radio station created to counter popular conservative talk radio, testifies to the power of volition. Radio stations across the country did not wish to syndicate or carry Air America because their owners or managers knew that their audiences did not wish to listen to it. (Americans already get enough of left-liberal perspectives and talking points in their newspapers and from politicians.)

“Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told radio host Bill Press yesterday when asked about whether it was time to bring back the so-called ’Fairness Doctrine’: ’I think it’s absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it’s called the Fairness Standard, whether it’s called something else -- I absolutely think it’s time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves….”


Which means: Any station that allows someone like Rush Limbaugh to publicly hope that Obama’s policies fail, would be held “accountable” and presumably penalized, taken over, or driven out of business. Stabenow, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi and their cohorts are not working to see Rush Limbaugh debate someone like Bill Moyers (of PBS) on important issues; they know that Limbaugh, whatever his faults, would wipe the floor with Moyers and that countless Americans would cheer Limbaugh on with all the raucous gusto of a crowd watching a prize fight. The last thing the advocates of “fairness” and “balance” want is confrontation. They know they would lose.

But the fundamental purpose of the “Fairness Doctrine,” or whatever its new name might be, is not to establish “fair standards” or to enforce ‘accountability” or to “serve” the public. Its goal is to destroy the very concept of free speech, to reduce it to a contest of “he said-she said,” to give insupportable, arbitrary assertions the same weight as statements of fact -- in short, to sully the value of the freedom of speech, to nullify the role of ideas and to inculcate in one’s mind a cloying indifference to whatever anyone says about anything.

In June a ruling is expected from the Supreme Court on whether or not a documentary film, “Hillary: The Movie,” produced by a conservative group, Citizens United, is political speech or a political ad. It was shown in eight theaters during the primaries in 2008 and intended to criticize Hillary Clinton, then regarded as the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. The Federal Election Commission subsequently prohibited it from being aired on television.

“Government lawyers argued that conservative group Citizens United’s 90-minute documentary…is a political ad just like traditional one-minute or 30-second spots and therefore regulated by the McCain-Feingold law, the popular name for 2002 revisions to the nation’s campaign finance laws [the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act].

“The FEC’s conclusion that the movie was nothing more than an overt attempt to persuade voters not to side with Hillary Clinton was affirmed by a three-judge panel last summer which ruled the film had ’no other interpretation’ other than as an advocacy message to voters that Clinton should not be elected.”


Whether or not the Court rules for or against the film, its decision will likely be grounded on non-fundamental reasons. The Court will not challenge the validity of McCain-Feingold, only the utterly arbitrary rules by which it is enforced and whether or not they are practical or “fair.” It will not venture to rule McCain-Feingold and every other statutory or legislative abridgement of the First Amendment unconstitutional. It will simply count beans and measure concretes and second-guess the intent of the film and of its producers.

Helping the Court dodge the issue is Citizens United itself:

“Citizens United appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that ‘Hillary: The Movie’ should not be considered a political ad. The group says there is nothing in the movie urging people to vote against Clinton. The group says the film is more of a documentary comparable to critical television news programs such as ‘Frontline,’ ‘Nova,’ and ‘60 Minutes.’”


No political principle I know of was ever defended by artful insinuation, which is what the group’s argument before the Court amounts to. “It really isn’t what you think it is, it’s something else entirely, and shouldn’t be called a political ad. It is an ‘express advocacy’ of nothing. Clinton just happens to be the subject.”

Cringing is not an efficacious method of persuasion. Far be it from Citizens United to insist that the government has an obligation to defend anyone’s right to persuade voters about candidates and issues in any style or medium he wishes or thinks the most effective, at any time before, during, and after a campaign, paid for with as much funding as possible by whatever any individual or group is willing to provide it. Far be it from Citizens United to insist that the Court uphold the First Amendment.

With friends like that, freedom of speech does not need enemies.

:: Permalink | 10 Comments ::

 

:: Saturday, March 21, 2009 ::

Obama's “Extreme Makeover” of America 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 9:52 PM

It is hard to decide any more which current government-spawned disasters and those to come one should dwell on. As on the popular TV program, ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,“ President Barack Obama is overseeing the demolition of the remnants of a republic that upheld individual rights and of the construction of a socialist “republic.“ The country is “needy,“ he claims, and must be housed in a new habitat, which is looking more and more like a minimum security prison, with all medical records managed by the government, movement monitored by the TSA, diet regulated by the warden, and one’s time spent on guarded work details (otherwise known as chain gangs).

For example, there is the move to draft all Americans into “voluntary” national service -- presumably a servitude with the encouragement of bribes if one submits or promised reprisals if one does not. In Congress, Senate and House Democrats and Republicans are shepherding through legislation which, taken altogether, is pretty much a civilian cradle-to-grave Selective Service System. For example:

“The House passed a bill yesterday; which includes disturbing language indicating young people will be forced to undertake mandatory national service programs as fears about President Barack Obama’s promised ‘civilian national security force’ intensify.

“The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, known as the GIVE Act, was passed yesterday by a 321-105 margin and now goes to the Senate.”


In the Senate, Chris Dodd, D-Connecticut, says that bills introduced by Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, will “create the architecture and the structure that will serve as the invitation to everyone to serve.”

“The legislation would target everyone from schoolchildren to the elderly and aim to create new bases of volunteers beyond the usual young-adult pool of service-program participants, reports The Day.”


Accompanying the article on the Senate bills is a propaganda poster straight out of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia: a drawn figure of a youth shouldering a shovel, his upward glance presumably focused on a cause higher than himself. The shovel could be used to dig ditches, or as a club against the recalcitrant, non-volunteer.

What about examining the “spontaneous” demonstrations by scruffy, soup-kitchen caliber “community activists” who take buses to the homes of AIG executives who received some of the $165 million in bonuses that Congress and the news media are frothing at the mouth over? These semi-literate individuals look suspiciously like recruits of ACORN, Obama’s public service alma mater. Wasn’t the list of AIG executives who received bonuses supposed to be confidential to protect the executives from harassment or worse? Are these demonstrators destined to be drafted into Obama’s “civilian national security force,” which he called for in July 2008, and sent to Rahm Emanuel’s Public Service Academy?

Or should one dwell on the possibility that the United States was subjected to a 9/11-style economic attack, one calculated to give Obama and the Democrats the excuse to take initial steps to nationalize the economy? Diana West, in her March 17th article, “Who Attacked Our Economy?” reports that in mid-September 2008, $550 billion was abruptly and unaccountably withdrawn within two hours from the country’s banks and money market funds, precipitating the eventual collapse of virtually every entity, governmental or private, linked to the vast gossamer web of government-sponsored subprime mortgages.

“Who or what was responsible for that electronic run on the banks to the tune of $550 billion?” West asks. Was it George Soros, who hates the freedom that allowed him to amass an incredible fortune, and who acted as Obama‘s chief campaign fund “angel“? A cabal of Russia, China and other countries hostile to the U.S., such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, intent on bringing the U.S. into the fascist fold by guaranteeing the election of a man equally hostile to the U.S. and to what is left of its freedoms? Saudi Arabia and Iran in a rare bi-sectarian alliance between them to bring the U.S. into the Islamic sphere of influence by ensuring the election of a more accommodating and apologetic appeaser than was then-President George W. Bush?

Briefly, was Barack Obama some power’s “Manchurian Candidate”? That the electronic run on the banks occurred is beyond doubt. But it remains inexplicable and unreported by both the government and the news media.

Should one dwell on Obama’s proposed “cap and trade” energy policy that would clutter the landscape with wind turbines and solar panel arrays and ensure that Americans become dependent on the whims of the weather and on government management of power, and pay more for it? Or on his education policies, which will be inspired by his lurking left-wing, ex-Weatherman friend, William Ayers, whose “education” philosophy is nothing more than a kindergarten-through-high school curriculum of collectivist indoctrination?

Or, should one comment on Obama’s appearance on Jay Leno’s “The Tonight Show” on March 19th, when Obama did not answer Leno’s query that now that Congress has established the precedent of further violating the Constitution by punishing AIG executives for bonuses their employer was contractually obligated to pay them, what was to prevent Congress from making a habit of it, of targeting private individuals who incur the wrath of do-good sadists in government? In reply, Obama demonstrated that he is the doyen of dissemblers and delivered his usual spiel of vague assurances. He did not answer Leno’s question. Leno may as well have never asked it. And the news media was selectively deaf to it, focusing instead on Obama’s gaffe about the “Special Olympics” of the “disabled.”

A more honest answer to Leno’s question would have been: Nothing, not any more.

It is noteworthy that Obama’s bantering, unscripted comment about the disabled revealed a core contempt for those whom he professes a wish to help. This is characteristic of all professional, career altruists, as Ayn Rand demonstrated in Ellsworth Toohey in her novel, The Fountainhead. Does anyone with a modicum of self-respect believe that Barney Frank and Chris Dodd are acting from the milk of human kindness? Say, rather, they speak and act from the venom of malicious hatred for anyone not willing to submit and take orders.

Speaking of the disabled and the “Special Olympics,“ nothing is more obviously “disabled” and “special” than our government-subsidized cultural establishment, and Obama has capped his Creature Feature menagerie of political appointments by naming a half-blind crony, Kareem Dale, as his special assistant to oversee arts and culture. He was also named in February as special assistant for disability policy. He will work with Valerie Jarrett, another of Obama’s Chicago cronies, who heads the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs.

“’It’s a big step forward in terms of connecting cultural and government with mainstream administration policy,’ said Mr. Ivey said in an interview on Friday…Mr. Ivey, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said he expected that the job would mainly involve coordinating the activities of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services ‘in relation to White House objectives.’”


What is “mainstream administration policy”? What are the “White House objectives”? One can be certain the policy and the objectives constitute a mandatory wheelchair ramp for federally-funded arts organizations, from local bric-a-brac makers all the way up to Broadway plays and ethnic festivals.

“The challenge for culture boosters in Congress was to convince a House-Senate conference committee that the arts provide jobs as other industries do, while also encouraging tourism and spending in general.

“’We had the facts on our side,’ said Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a New York Democrat who is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Arts Caucus. ‘If we’re trying to stimulate the economy, and get money into the Treasury, nothing does that better than art.’”


Come again? What “facts”? Most reality-grounded observers would say that taxed capital investments and capital gains in the productive sector and technological innovations and freedom of trade send most of the money to the Treasury, not to mention stimulate the economy, and not the esoteric, non-objective sallies in “free expression” by dependent, pathetic, no-talent dilettantes of art.

“Taking the Obama past as prelude, there’s a fair amount of evidence to support arts partisans’ hopes for a White House attuned to music, theater, fine arts and dance….On his Facebook page, the president includes Bach’s cello suites and Shakespeare’s tragedies among his favorite works….If the president needs input on the arts, he’s plugged in with a chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who entered Sarah Lawrence College with dreams of becoming a ballet dancer.”


These are supposed to be assurances that Obama and Company mean well, that they are cultured and wouldn‘t harm a fly? Obama purportedly wrote two books, and attended a performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Kennedy Center and applauded that group‘s meaningless gymnastics and gyrations. Emanuel “dreamed” of becoming a ballet dancer, and, as did many members of FDR’s Brain Trust, purportedly wrote a book about the necessity of government controls on the economy. It is certain that many of his staff and appointees have cultural pretensions, as well, and now may indulge them at taxpayer expense.

I’m sure that Valerie Jarrett and Kareem Dale, together with the National Endowment for the Arts, which will disperse the $50 million to “qualified” individuals, organizations, and states, will endorse the funding of such things as a Muslim production of Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” and a WPA-style traveling exhibit of paintings by amateurs employed in pork barrel construction projects.

Well, Hitler once “dreamed” of becoming a famous painter, but had to settle for dictating Mein Kampf in prison (the German Koran, literally) and attending the opera. Stalin, Franco, and other dictators all aspired to contribute “culturally” to their serfs and sycophants and established bureaucracies to ensure that the culture conformed to political dogma.

When the federally-funded cultural “establishment” learned that its cut of the $787 billion “stimulus” bill had been removed from the House version by the Senate, I wrote in an earlier commentary that its spokesmen and lobbyists beat an undignified and hysterical path to Washington and succeeded in having the $50 million reinstated. But, as The Wall Street Journal reported on February 18, “fifty million dollars…is just a bubble on a wave.”

It has occurred to no one, not even to the author of the WSJ article, that the government has no business subsidizing any of the arts; its only legitimate role is to “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries” (Section VIII of the Constitution). Which means protecting individual rights and intellectual property. There is no mention in that document of funding quilts of cultural diversity or Third World music jamborees or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Taxpayer money has been and now will continue to be used to promote “noncommercial art.” (See Ayn Rand‘s 1973 article, “To Dream the Noncommercial Dream” in The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought for a discussion of the specious arguments of the champions of state-funded art.)

What this country desperately needs is an “extreme makeover” of its governing philosophy. The entire welfare state must be dismantled or be allowed to collapse before we can begin to regain our liberty. And that will take a philosophical revolution.

:: Permalink | 8 Comments ::

 

:: Thursday, March 19, 2009 ::

The Trouble with Republicans 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 11:53 AM

“There has long been an element of the Republican Party that has felt a need to distance themselves from people who stand up for conservative principles, whether those with principles have been Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, or whomever.”


So observed Thomas Sowell on March 17 in his latest Townhall column, “The Republican Civil War.” Sowell is one of my favorite political commentators, together with Walter Williams and a few other conservative/“libertarian“ columnists. Author of many books that explode contemporary political and social fashions with bomb-squad precision, Sowell wrote what I consider the best critique of Marxism, Marxism: Philosophy and Economics (1985), in which he shreds the doctrine into countless specks of chad. And his columns can be depended on for their cogently piquant criticisms of what passes for modern political and social “received wisdom.” It is doubtful that any of his book titles will be found on President Barack Obama’s bookshelf -- if he has one.

His latest column, however, points up the main problem with the Republican Party, and with Sowell’s argument, which is chiefly that conservatism, as an ideology or a set of principles, is utterly bankrupt. Its adherents can only try to out-shout the Democratic Party that they could do a better job of “managing” the country and the economy, when the best solution is to get the government out of the economy and back to its Constitutional mandate of protecting individual rights. But such a solution is as abhorrent to the Republicans as it is to the Democrats. It would entail a relinquishment of power and the repudiation of not only the welfare state, but of the roles of God, family and other “traditional” values in the GOP platform. Any other course of action will guarantee a sentence of irrelevancy of the Republican Party.

Sowell takes the Republican Party to task for being bankrupt, citing its current infighting over whether or not to side with Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and other outspoken religious and secular conservatives. It is not so ironic that most Republicans wish to distance themselves from the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter, who regularly launch broadsides against liberals and the Democrats from their flip-flopping religious/common sense convictions. It is exactly those convictions on which the Republicans once campaigned and legislated.

The Republicans behave like private citizens cowering in fear of a roaming street gang, and seek to protect themselves by paying moral and political protection money to the gang -- the gang in this instance being the Democrats.

Sowell, however, does not name those principles, nor does he offer a constructive solution other than that the Republicans should stick to their principles and stop indulging in what novelist Ayn Rand called “me-too-ism.”

“There has even been an undercurrent among some Republicans of a sense that it is time to move away from the image of Ronald Reagan, to update the party and court newer and less embarrassing segments of the voters than their current base.”


One can wholeheartedly agree with that observation. The two Reagan administrations made no serious attempt to abolish or reduce the welfare state. Reagan did nothing to nip the Islamic jihad in the bud (remember the Marine barracks massacre in Lebanon?) when forthright and terminal action against our enemies, chiefly Iran and Saudi Arabia, would have spared us 9/11 and the two futile and costly Iraq wars under the Bush administrations. One is at a loss to understand why Reagan is upheld by conservatives as the template of “good government.” He is credited with making tax cuts. But what the government gave during his terms of office, can be taken away just as easily, as Obama and a Democratic Congress are eager to do.

And, of course, let us not forget that the Republicans, under both Bush administrations, were responsible for the largest expansion of the welfare state and intrusive government interventions, which the Democrats happily obliged them with, and which the Obama administration wishes to surpass FDR-style.

Jared Seehafer, in his article of March 17, “Jesus Christ or John Galt? The Republican Party’s Identity Crisis,” argues that if the Republican Party wants to regain Congress and the White House in the next election, it must abandon the religious foundation of its principles and discover and advocate capitalism. He also argues that conservatives largely recognize the value of capitalism and seek to ensure its existence, and that the Republicans must realize that religion and capitalism, as moral systems, are irreconcilable.

I agree with that evaluation, except that, from my experience and observations, I do not think the conservatives actually value capitalism. It is a secondary matter to them. But, Rand put it best in her 1973 article, “Censorship: Local and Express”:

“The conservatives see man as a body freely roaming the earth, building sand piles or factories -- with an electronic computer inside his skull, controlled from Washington. The liberals [the Democrats] see man as a soul freewheeling to the farthest reaches of the universe -- but wearing chains from nose to toes when he crosses the street to buy a loaf of bread.”


Further on, she notes:

“…Each camp wants to control the realm it regards as metaphysically important; each grants freedom only to the activities it despises…..‘Control,‘ to both camps, means the power to rule by physical force. The conservatives want to rule man’s consciousness; the liberals, his body.”*


Sowell raises the issue that Republicans could easily win more black voters to their party by charging the Democrats with the horrendous and ongoing debacle of their welfare state and educational policies.

“No segment of the population has lost more by the agendas of the liberal constituencies of the Democratic Party than the black population. The teachers’ unions, environmental fanatics and the ACLU are just some of the groups to whose interests blacks have been sacrificed wholesale. Lousy education and high crime rates in the ghettos, and unaffordable housing elsewhere with building restrictions, are devastating prices to pay for liberalism. Yet the Republicans have never articulated that argument, and their opportunism in trying to get black votes by becoming imitation Democrats has failed miserably for decades on end.”


All that is true. But what Sowell fails to grasp is that, for reasons of altruism, the Republicans largely endorse the programs that Democrats advocate and enact, but say that they would do a better job of it, just as left-wingers claim that Soviet communism would have triumphed if only it had been guided by “better men.” The Republicans are not going to garner any significant support by implicitly endorsing Obama’s aggressive takeover of the economy by bickering over such minor issues as the amount of pork in the stimulus legislation or by harping on whether or not Obama and the new Treasury Secretary “knew” about the AIG executive bonuses before taking an 80% ownership in the company.

(Abetting both the Democrats and the Republicans in that exercise in fascism are the news media, which continue to report the lie that American taxpayers “own“ that 80%. I have heard no Republican point this out. Nor have I heard any conservative warn the nation about the peril of forcing AIG executives to return their bonuses, which would be an assault on contract law via ex post facto taxation, regardless of those executives‘ culpability in the subprime mortgage fiasco. No Republican has upbraided Congressman Barney Frank for demanding a list of those executives‘ names, which he would hand over to a Congressional lynch mob.)

Seehafer is correct to ask what Sowell did not: What principles does the Republican Party uphold, other than religious-based ones, which Sowell does not even mention in his article? Another question to ask is: What intellectual leadership could cure the Republicans of their bifurcated political policies and persuade them to adopt a moral advocacy of capitalism?

It certainly will not be the Sermon on the Mount, nor even Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. It must be John Galt. It must be a philosophy of reason, or Objectivism.


*In Philosophy: Who Needs It. New York: Signet softcover (1982), p. 187.

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:: Friday, March 13, 2009 ::

When Fools Rush In 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 10:15 AM

The nation -- indeed, the world -- is waking up to the idea that ideas have consequences. One idea is that sacrificing is not a life-enhancing option and will lead to misery or death. Another is that the heedless policy of a spendthrift is not a rational course of action. Another is that adopting the policy of a spendthrift benefits no one but a politician who advocates it as a sound fiscal policy. Envy is not a paying proposition. “Class warfare” in the form of “soaking the rich” to help the poor assures mutual impoverishment. There are so many more altruist and collectivist ideas that are being grasped by millions as a collective prescription for penury and extinction.

The world seems to be emerging from a moral and intellectual coma, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently. It is discovering that other ideas have other consequences, as well, ideas that promote life, promote prosperity, promote ambition and personal success, and that they are possible only in political freedom, and that this freedom has been violated, abridged, and nullified by the first set of ideas. True, politics is the last thing to be affected by a philosophical revolution. But one cannot help but be pleased with how startled the collectivists and altruists are now by the knowledge that they have not successfully pulled a fast one on Americans. These Americans have come knocking on the doors of elitists or are leaning over the café railings or invading their legislated smoke-free bars and restaurants to ask: What in hell do you think you are doing?

The Americans who recently protested the spendthrift policies of the Obama administration and Congress with “tea parties,” and who plan to protest them on an even larger scale in the near future, one can wager are not regular readers of The New York Times. They cannot have much in common with its columnists and editors, nor with the news media. So the collectivist and altruist elite become very touchy when the people for whom they are “doing good” for their own sake, even to the point of enacting coercive and felonious legislation, exhibit signs of intelligence, resistance and anger. How dare these yokels!

And nothing raises their hackles higher than any mention of Ayn Rand. This is because they thought she and her philosophy had been buried by that arch-conservative, Whittaker Chambers, wielding a shovel on one side of the grave, while that fellow-traveler and critic Granville Hicks wielded another on the other side, in a true demonstration of bipartisanship half a century ago. And hadn’t all the academics and pundits and book writers since then refuted her and her philosophy over time and ensured that she would not return to haunt them?

The cultural and political elite are upset that she has not been forgotten. That philosophy has returned to haunt them and aggravate their guilt. And they are in high dudgeon because they are being cast in the role, not as saviors, but as her black-hearted villains. They are discovering that ideas cannot be interred as permanently as their authors. Atlas Shrugged is on their minds.

The Times blog, “Opinionator” (a round-up of positions expressed in other blogs) of March 6th, called “’Going Galt’: Everyone’s Doing It!“ is a testimonial to how the elite have been blind-sided in their arrogant complacency and sent spinning out of control on the Internet highway, and evidence of how thoroughly they have been indoctrinated in the belief that reality has nothing to do with their chosen “reality.” They are deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming train, but sneer that the train does not exist. They are stuffed animals crammed with the excelsior of worn-out bromides, mulched second-hand sociology, and the sawdust of a failed ideology.

Reading the denials of the cultural elite is almost as amusing as watching Sir Fretful Plagiary, the hack playwright in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy, The Critic, protest that his play does not fall off, is not tediously spun out, and does not want incident. Incredibly, these are the literary vices they ascribe to Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, and they claim they can’t understand why it is getting so much attention. Nor can they understand why President Obama is having problems putting over his disastrous policies. Why don’t these “Galtists” just shut up and do as he says?

That they protest too much is an indication that they do understand. These are the crusaders who crusaded to destroy literary, economic and political values, and made living in this culture as pointless as watching a snow-covered TV screen. They would not have campaigned to destroy them if they did not feel threatened by them.

Their truncated minds and shriveled souls will not permit them to concede defeat. They see the “relevance,” these programmed altruists and dispensers of others’ wealth, and join in a chorus of denials of the relevance. Many are loathe to admit their malice. Others, while not projecting their self-deception and hatred on Rand or on her admirers, confess their utter ignorance of the importance of Atlas Shrugged. Randomly, and to wit:

“I look to Atlas Shrugged more for conveniently totable beach reading than an economic blueprint…. If only the people in her novels had acted remotely like actual people, rather than [like] comic book characters, I, too, would be rereading the thing now.”


This is the kind of “missing link” mentality that never progressed beyond the concretes under her nose. The novel is a novel, not a blueprint for anything. It is an idealization of reality, and the events in it are necessarily telescoped. Those events in the novel are so grounded in reality -- and the heroes and villains are so concretely real -- that it would be futile to explain to such a person that “actual people” are moved by the same values or anti-values as are the novel’s characters. The task of induction would be impossible to her. One must ask, also: Whose fictional characters, in her mind, aren’t of “comic book” caliber? John Updike’s? Joyce Carol Oates’s?

Then there is another kind of arrested mentality, writing about those who may choose to go on strike:

“And of course none of these folks designed an engine that would have created basically free energy (and made global warming a non-issue). In the individual case, ‘going Galt’ smacks of a kind of self-aggrandizement in the same way that climate smuggery does. Because, really, your marginal contribution doesn’t matter that much….The point is that you are not John Galt. You don’t even know who he is! And this eventually leaves you weeping on abandoned train tracks.”


This is someone struggling to convince “you” that you aren’t important enough to make a difference, and himself that your quitting in protest wouldn’t affect him much. The desperation is in the sneer. This individual apparently has read the novel, and got nothing from it. He is a minuscule, belittling Ellsworth Toohey. Well, Hillary Clinton once said she’d read Ayn Rand’s novels in college, and that it was just a “passing phase.” Look at the kind of contemptible person she grew to be.

Other bloggers make equally irrelevant comments about Rand and her novel. Trying to make sense of them is like trying to make sense of a Picasso canvas. Just as interesting, however, are the kinds of responses their comments elicited from their readers, ranging from the malicious to the short-range to the certifiably dumb. To wit:

Atlas Shrugged is a joke. A piece of ridiculosity.”

“I wish they would take a John Galt….Please feel free to go on strike. We would be better off without you.”

“Rand falsely assumes these innovative genius[es] work in a vacuum and don’t benefit from having a safe, civil society to work in.”

“Please show me anything that I can touch, or eat, or live in, or drive that the ‘productive rich’ have made?”


Then there are the obvious Obama supporters, individuals ready and willing to sacrifice and work for “the good of society.”

“It is not at all clear that we need to bribe people with promises of riches in order to get them to do useful work. If it turns out to be necessary with today’s crop of masters of the universe, then we’ll need to find a way to start over, once we have turned the spoiled brats out of their unearned positions of power.”

“Please, go Galt. Be my guest….Take that genius talent of yours right over to the bus station at Applebee’s. I can’t wait to watch you scraping uneaten peas into the garbage disposal. You and your genius Galt buddies Bernie Madoff and Sir [Allen] Stanford.”

“The top tax rate will go up approximately 5%, and this makes you decide to take your ball and go home? That seems silly to me.”

“One of the characters [Hugh Akston, the philosopher of reason] in Atlas Shrugged was working in a diner frying hamburgers when he encountered Dagny Taggart. He was one of the ones who ‘shrugged.’ It was honest work and he made a very good hamburger. If Malkin and [Rick] Santelli and some others ‘go Galt,’ hopefully we can count on an increase in hamburger quality across the nation.”


These are people who probably believe that “unearned income” is a valid concept and should be taxed and otherwise penalized, because no observable physical labor is involved in the rewards of risking investments in stocks and innovators and loans to productive enterprises. Intellectual labor is as much an unreal concept to them as it is to the IRS. Such labor is responsible for everything that the one individual “can touch, or eat, or live in, or drive.”

And, a number of these individuals view Bernard Madoff and Stanford as the symbols of capitalism and freedom. One newscaster on ABC this morning erroneously referred to Madoff as a “financier,” but then the news media suffer from a similar truncated mentality. They don’t “get it” that Obama, his appointees, and Congress are all guilty of the mother of all Ponzi schemes.

Two or three respondents answered with defenses of Rand and the novel. One promised to go on strike.

“I will cut back so that my hard-earned income is not taken by the government and redistributed to people who have not worked as hard. I will not subsidize others.”


One point of this commentary is to reveal the scope of hostility that exists in our culture to individualism, capitalism, freedom, and “the rich” -- and to the mind. Another is to prepare those who would argue in defense of those things for the levels of ignorance and species of malice they will encounter, not only in people they might personally engage in argument, but in politicians, academics, and the news media.

The thing to remember is that reason and reality are on our side. Most of our opponents and enemies know it. They are not the ones who need convincing or any kind of rational guidance. Beware especially of the ones who claim it is your duty to convince them. These creatures' minds are the truly truncated. Let reality be their ultimate persuader.

Focus on those who show genuine interest in answers, and never mind the fools.

:: Permalink | 12 Comments ::

 

:: Saturday, March 07, 2009 ::

The New Intolerable Acts 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 10:46 AM

There are qualified parallels between what American colonists protested and rebelled against in 1774-1775, and what modern Americans ought to be rebelling against today. As Congress passes legislation intended to take over the economy, the British Crown passed legislation intended to take over that of the American colonies. President Barack Obama’s proposed budget is specifically worded to accomplish the near total nationalization of the economy. A succession of Acts of Parliament which virtually assured revolution and war were what were called the Intolerable or Coercive Acts.

The TARP and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Acts are more massive in scope than any of the Intolerable Acts -- which were mercantilist in nature, not socialist -- but not dissimilar from the British Acts in their specific ends: to achieve a captive economy intended to serve statist purposes.

A letter to the editor of The Tennessean of February 5, in the form of a letter to the IRS advising it that the writer would be late in paying his income tax, lists all the taxes the individual paid in the daily course of his life:

“I have paid these taxes: accounts receivable tax, building permit tax, CDL tax, cigarette tax, corporate income tax, dog license tax, federal income tax, unemployment tax, gasoline tax, hunting license tax, fishing license tax, waterfowl stamp tax, inheritance tax, inventory tax, liquor tax, Medicare tax, city, school and county property taxes (up 33 percent the last four years), real estate tax, Social Security tax, road usage tax, toll road tax, state and city sales taxes, recreational vehicle tax, state franchise tax, state unemployment tax, telephone federal excise tax, telephone federal, state and local surcharge tax, telephone minimum usage surcharge tax, telephone state and local taxes, utility tax, vehicle license registration tax, capital gains tax, lease severance tax, oil and gas assessment tax, Tennessee property tax, Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia and Alabama sales taxes, and many more that I can’t recall but I have run out of space and money.”


The average American citizen could also report an equal or greater number of taxes he pays, regardless of his state of residence.

A host of British and even colonial taxes burdened American colonists (in Virginia, for example, there was a local tax on carriages and their wheels) in the decades leading up to passage of the one that lit the fuse of rebellion, and then of revolution: the Stamp Act, passed by Parliament in March 1765. Its repeal almost exactly a year later by Parliament taught the Crown government nothing. Aside from the Revenue or Sugar Act of 1764, which was intended to reduce smuggling rum and goods from the West Indies and the European continent, the Act of Parliament which first proved “intolerable” was the Stamp Act. It is the Stamp Act which best parallels the situation of Americans today. The Intolerable or Coercive Acts of 1774-1775 were largely punitive in nature and not intended to raise Crown revenue.*

The Stamp Act was chiefly a wholesale levy on the commercial and legal structure of the colonies. Its gross effect was to encompass virtually every action taken by the colonists in their daily lives. An American colonist could not move without encountering a tax. Hardly a commodity -- tea, hats, furs, lumber, and so on -- could be purchased as either a necessity or a luxury that was not directly taxed or whose price reflected a tax paid by another party and passed on to the purchaser; often, both taxes added to the price.

Here is a sampling of some of the Stamp taxes**:

A three-pence tax was imposed on “declarations, pleas, replications, rejoinders, demurrers, or other pleading, or any copy thereof, in any Court.”


A four-pence tax was imposed on “bills of lading, for any kinds of goods for exportation, or any Cockett or Clearance granted within the Colonies and Plantations of America.”


A one-shilling tax was imposed on “monitions, libels, answers, allegations, inventories, or renunciations in ecclesiastical matters in any Court…informations or other Pleading in any Admiralty Court.”


A two-pound (£) tax was imposed on “donations, presentations, collations or institutions to any benefice, or registers, entries, testimonials or certificates of any degree taken in any university, academy, college or seminary of learning.”


A four-pound tax was imposed on “licenses for retailing wine, grants, appointments or admissions to any public beneficial office….” [A three-pound tax was imposed on the renewal of a license to retail wine.]


A one-shilling tax was imposed on “every pack of cards sold or used within the Colonies and Plantations of America.”


A ten-shilling tax was imposed on dice. [Packs of cards and dice were wrapped to accommodate the stamps, which were already affixed to the wrappers. Today, for example, state tax stamps are printed on packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products.]


The taxes which most outraged colonists were the ones imposed on newspapers, almanacs, and calendars, ranging from two to eight pence, depending on the item. Newspapers especially would have been crippled, since all newsprint (the paper on which newspapers were printed) was by law restricted to British-made and imported newsprint, for which a hefty premium was charged. Colonists regarded these taxes as taxes on knowledge. And the catch was that all stamp taxes had to be paid in British sterling or specie only, of which very little circulated in the colonies because most of it remained in Britain under the credit arrangements with British merchants in the mercantilist system. The average colonist handled little more than two or three pounds in one year.

Today, Americans pay a “stamp” sales tax on their newspapers, periodicals, and books, pay the numerous taxes passed on to them by the publishers of these things, in addition to taxes on virtually everything they buy and consume.

Whatever one’s verdict on the Crown’s failed Stamp Act, British politicians were counting on the Americans to keep producing in order to sustain the mercantilist system (chiefly as suppliers of raw materials; other legislation discouraged or prohibited development of manufacturing in the colonies). But one cannot say that about TARP and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The ARRA and Obama’s budget proposal are designed to drain all private capital into federal coffers. Obama and his Congressional allies cannot help but realize that this would destroy what capitalism -- or freedom -- is left in the U.S.

The first “bailout” was intended to sustain the creations or beneficiaries of a mixed economy. Ayn Rand pointed out in her 1972 article, “The Establishment of an Establishment,” that:

“In business, the rise of the welfare state froze the status quo, perpetuating the power of big corporations of the pre-income tax era, placing them beyond the competition of the tax-strangled newcomers. A similar process took place in the welfare state of the intellect. The results, in both fields, are the same.”***


Thus General Motors, AIG, Bank of America, and many other older companies which grew to mammoth size not only have benefited from the rise of the welfare state, but are the beneficiaries of federal favors. (AIG, or the American International Group, I should remark here, is especially culpable; together with Armand Hammer and other amoral Western businessmen with connections to government trade officials, it had close dealings with the Soviet Union and helped to sustain that totalitarian regime.)

The Obama regime aims to buy “stakes” in nominally private entities for the purpose of “socializing” them by directing their purposes and revenue. This is what happened in Fascist Italy and in Nazi Germany. Fascism and Nazism are hardly “right wing” political systems, as left-wingers claim; they are left-wing to the core. Presidents Clinton and the two Bushes prepared the way for Obama and Company with their own legislation; Obama and Company are ready to finalize the destruction of this country.

There is another noteworthy parallel. In 1763, at the end of the French and Indian War, George III issued a proclamation prohibiting colonial settlement in the lands west of the tramontane, or the Allegheny Mountain range, the better to regulate, control and tax the American colonists. A similar move is brewing in Congress to cut off the escape of private capital from federal taxation and confiscation to offshore banking havens, such as the Bahamas and Switzerland.

Captive economies such as that contemplated by Obama, Congress and their supporters outside of the government remain command economies for very brief periods of time -- unless they are buttressed by relatively freer economies. It explains the longevity of such totalitarian regimes as the Soviet Union, Red China, Cuba and North Korea, which for decades benefited from loans, subsidies and “trade” agreements granted by Western governments. Otherwise, such economies, if left to their own devices, simply atrophy and ultimately collapse. They are naturally asphyxiated by the absence of freedom.

The only American colonies to generate revenue for the Crown from the Stamp Act were Georgia, East and West Florida, and the Canadian and West Indian colonies. In all the other colonies Americans rebelled and refused to pay the taxes. Shipments of stamps were burned or were warehoused by distributors until they could be sent back to Britain. Royally appointed governors were impotent to enforce the Act. Every Crown-appointed stamp distributor was compelled to resign his commission. The rebellion was an overture to the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and ultimately to Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, and to the Declaration of Independence.

Whether or not the recent, numerous “tea parties” held across the country in protest against Obama’s and Congress’s plan to guile Americans into accepting slavery or servitude will have any lasting consequence or effect on Washington, remains to be seen. Whether or not the stock market continues to refuse to “rally” in response to Obama’s economic agenda, also remains to be seen.

But the fact that they have occurred is evidence there are countless Americans who regard recent and proposed legislation as intolerable. At the moment, it is hard to gauge if they possess the moral stamina required to consistently confront the behemoth of federal power. They will need intellectual guidance as well as courage. They will need ideas to let them know they are right. They will need the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

It is not enough for Americans to merely sense that the only moral and practical “stimulus” to economic recovery is freedom. They must know it. Only philosophy can give them that certitude.

And it is hard to judge if Obama, Congress and the collectivists will have the malice and vengeful bottom to call for their own Coercive Acts in answer to such resistance. Having come so close to conquering America, they may be tempted to try it. Just as the Crown, long before the Stamp Act was even enacted, was contemplating turning the American colonies into one huge camp of indentured servants, the “progressives” in this country have for decades plotted and drooled over the chance to achieve the same end.

Americans, beware! Obama, Congress and the collectivists are not the rattlesnakes that appeared on American militia flags, but together one stalking monitor lizard that bites its prey, poisons it with the venom of altruism, and waits for it to die of it before feeding on the carcass.

Long live Lady Liberty!



*Source: English Historical Documents: American Colonial Documents to 1776, ed. Merrill Jensen. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode (1964).
**The 1765 Tax Stamps for America, ed. Adolph Koeppel. American Revenue Association (1962).
***In Philosophy: Who Needs It. New York: Signet softcover (1982), p. 170.

:: Permalink | 12 Comments ::

 

 

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