Rights and Reason: 'Special-Anti-Special-Interest Extremists'
Oh, the humanity:
Alaska needs a publicity campaign to restore its image after battles over wilderness oil drilling and "Bridges to Nowhere" that have made the state a laughing stock, Gov. Frank Murkowski said on Tuesday.
"Alaska has been held up to public ridicule by the special-interest extremists," Murkowski said in his state-of-the-state address in the capital, Juneau.
The Republican governor is an ardent advocate of controversial development projects including the proposed federally funded bridges and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, both of which the U.S. Congress has balked at.
The bridges -- one to an island of 50 people and the other connecting Anchorage to a little-used port -- have been dubbed "Bridges to Nowhere" by critics of federal "pork barrel" largess and become fodder for late-night television comedians.
Environmentalists have waged a long-running battle against drilling in the refuge, also known as ANWR, which they view as a pristine natural treasure.
Murkowski proposed a two-year public-relations campaign, which he said was "long overdue" and would resemble successful campaigns conducted by groups like the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association. [Yereth Rosen, Reuters]
I don't have to say here that I'm with Murkowski on ANWR. Nevertheless, the whole “bridge to nowhere” thing is quite rightfully a laughing stock. Worse, it’s utterly dishonest to call bridge opponents “special-interest extremists.” “Special-anti-special-interest extremists” perhaps—but the idea that Alaska pork is not a “special interest” is yet again, utterly laughable. And extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, bud. Remember that?
If Murkowski wants Alaska to have a new bridge, I say this: get out of the way and let a developer build one that charges tolls.
::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:24 AM |donate | link
Intellectual Activism: Off the Reservation . . .
Like most Objectivists, I take issue with the libertarian philosophy—the philosophy of capitalism without a corresponding grounding in epistemology and ethics. I argue that one can not effectively advocate the principle of individual rights unless one first understands the processes of the mind and its need for freedom, as well as the corresponding need to place the right to retaliatory force under objective control. As has been said many times before, Objectivism is not libertarian. Neither is CAC.
Accordingly, I must publicly indicate my disappointment that in the time since he left CAC, Mr. Skip Oliva, a former policy expert, has chosen to become a contributing writer to libertarian organizations such as lewrockwell.com and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Why do I take umbrage with Mr. Oliva’s participation in these groups? Because they are proud, outspoken enemies of Ayn Rand and her ideas. They pick and choose ideas of Rand’s that support their myopic obsession with anti-statism, while attacking her larger, more foundational ideas and saddling her and her supporters with smears such as this.
The logical outcome of the libertarian position—the position of trying to secure capitalism without a legitimate philosophic base—is anarchy. I don’t understand why Mr. Oliva has chosen to align himself with such an untenable intellectual position. I can find no innocent explanation.
The tragedy is that during his time at CAC, Mr. Oliva performed heroically, and did so with little or no remuneration. In the time that I worked with him, I found him to be a passionate defender of the victims of the government abuse of power. He was a methodical thinker and a relentless activist and I admired him greatly, even when others questioned—and outright attacked—his style. Some of his contributions were brilliant and have yet to be duplicated, even by those with far more scholastic training than he. My evaluation of his service should not imply that there were not times when I disagreed with him deeply. I often did. At the time, however, I simply thought his head was in it, and the results were usually good, if not great.
I can only think that during that period of unrewarded hardship and effort, Mr. Oliva turned on the movement that he felt had abandoned him. This is tragic, but if so, the mistake lies with him. One’s ultimate justification for being cannot be the sanction of others. The alternative to the current lack of Objectivist political and legal activism is not to make one’s bed with the libertarians, simply because they are anti-state. The alternative to being ignored is not to embrace one’s spiritual enemies as an act of revenge.
Instead, one must live for the truth—the whole truth, even if that means that one must stand alone. And sometimes, regrettably, that really stinks . . .
Accordingly, while I wish Mr. Oliva my best, I must properly disassociate this organization with him on the above grounds.
::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:01 AM |donate | link
Thursday, January 12, 2006::
Intellectual Activism: To write or not to write?
In his comments to an HBL e-mail discussion group post on writing letters to members of Congress, Objectivist philosopher Dr. Harry Binswanger asks how members act upon the letters they receive from constituents. In my work as an organizer of several letter-writing campaigns and through my discussions with the congressional staff who answer their mails, this is what I have determined:
1.) A low-level staffer or intern will read your letter. A member will read it only if a more senior staffer believes the letter writer is a person of influence with whom the member must recon.
2.) Letters only change a member’s view when the member is undecided on a narrow issue; they will never change the member’s larger outlook. As Dr. Binswanger alludes, most letters only serve as a tally of the intensity felt for a particular issue and an accounting of the ideological spread. Since letter-reading is a non-scientific gauge of public perception, opinion polls garner more respect. Additionally, a member will be far more concerned with the demographic make-up of his district then with the content of the letters he receives. There is a reason we have a government of incumbents.
3.) The response most letter-writers receive form their Congressmen have little to do with the original letter. Low-level staffers and interns write most of the replies to constituents. They draw their responses from blocks of pre-written “approved text.” This text is purposefully vague and will typically only indicate the member is aware of your issue.
Therefore, in my view, it rarely pays for Objectivists to write their members. The broad scope of the issues that concern most Objectivists often make it all but impossible to move members on the level we seek to persuade. When mixed with the high organizational cost of getting larger groups of people to focus on a narrow issue that has a better chance for victory, the odds are typically too much against us to merit that kind of political activism.
Additionally, where there was an easy and convenient method for Objectivist’s to contact their members, few Objectivists elected to exploit the resource, or underwrite its management. The reward of saying “So I sent them a letter” only goes so far.
I do believe that there are activist opportunities in politics and law that Objectivists can engage in today, and which will reap a reasonable ROI and grow the interest in our philosophy. Letter writing may play a part in such efforts. However, I believe this activism will have to have to be well-organized, work across several realms and mediums, and be understood as part of a larger, long-range effort to create more Objectivists.
::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 3:09 PM |donate | link
Wednesday, January 11, 2006::
Rights and Reason: Alito on commercial speech
More from Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), this time asking Judge Alito about his vote on The Pitt News v. Pap, a commercial speech case involving a Pennsylvania law that allowed newspapers affiliated with colleges and universities to accept free alcohol advertising, but criminalized any paid alcoholic advertising.
Alito’s answer: the Pennsylvania law was too narrowly tailored. My interpretation: good, but not great.
::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 3:29 PM |donate | link
Rights and Reason: Alito on antitrust
Just heard Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) ask Judge Alito about his vote on the 3M v. LePage case. Alito voted in favor of 3M, and said to DeWine that he was not an expert on antitrust, but that he examined what antitrust scholars and economists thought about the so-called intent to monopolize by bundling and thus justified his vote.
What does this mean? Beats me, except I wager that he’s not reading Richard Salsman, Gary Hall, or Dominic Armentano.
::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 3:22 PM |donate | link
Rights and Reason: If I were a senator for just one day . . .
I’ve been watching the Alito confirmation hearings on C-SPAN as best I can. Similar to my inability to sit though a Sunday morning talk show without squirming in abject agony, I find myself having a tough time sitting though this one too. I can yell at the TV all day, but they never seem to hear me . . .
My issue is with the caliber and content of the questions being asked of Alito by the senators. None of the senators seem to grasp the nature of individual rights; they neither understand the rational basis for rights, nor the courts’ role in identifying or protecting rights from government encroachment under the federal constitution.
If I were a senator, I would need to ask only one question in order to form my opinion of a nominee's intellectual qualifications for office. That question would be:
1.) The Ninth Amendment states that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Does this mean that the Ninth Amendment is the “necessary and proper” clause for the protection of unenumerated rights, and that the courts have the responsibility to protect the people when the government violates these rights? If so, by what process do the people properly establish an unenumerated right before the courts? If not, what purpose does the Ninth Amendment serve in the constitution?
::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:28 PM |donate | link
Tuesday, January 10, 2006::
Rights and Reason: 'Abuse of Popular Belief'
Here’s another story that caught my eye by Phil Stewart at Reuters:
Forget the U.S. debate over intelligent design versus evolution.
An Italian court is tackling Jesus -- and whether the Roman Catholic Church may be breaking the law by teaching that he existed 2,000 years ago.
The case pits against each other two men in their 70s, who are from the same central Italian town and even went to the same seminary school in their teenage years.
The defendant, Enrico Righi, went on to become a priest writing for the parish newspaper. The plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, became a vocal atheist who, after years of legal wrangling, is set to get his day in court later this month.
"I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against the Church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression," Cascioli told Reuters.
Cascioli says Righi, and by extension the whole Church, broke two Italian laws. The first is "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" (Abuse of Popular Belief) meant to protect people against being swindled or conned. The second crime, he says, is "Sostituzione di Persona", or impersonation.
"The Church constructed Christ upon the personality of John of Gamala," Cascioli claimed, referring to the 1st century Jew who fought against the Roman army. A court in Viterbo will hear from Righi, who has yet to be indicted, at a January 27 preliminary hearing meant to determine whether the case has enough merit to go forward.
What’s wrong with this case? Cascioli is attacking the right to hold a private view. If it's permissible for a government to rule on religion on the basis of “Abuse of Popular Belief,” then it’s permissible for a government to rule on politics, ethics, or any other realm it desires. Did marketing sway you to buy that car on the promise that it would increase your feeling of prestige or personal satisfaction? Abuse of Popular Belief. Did Atlas Shrugged sway you away from religion and toward Objectivism? Abuse of Popular Belief.
There is a reason government must stay out of the realm of ideas, and that is that no man may presume to think for another. Men like Cascioli are only acting against the dawn of a future age of reason, by undercutting the very intellectual freedom that would make such an age possible.
::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 4:48 PM |donate | link
Alaska's Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, vowed on Monday to remain in office until the chamber agrees to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling.
Stevens, 82, last month threw the Senate into chaos when he threatened to keep lawmakers in session over the Christmas holiday unless members approved drilling in ANWR, a wilderness area about the size of South Carolina.
He eventually conceded defeat after trying to attach the drilling language to a must-pass Pentagon funding bill.
On Monday, he said he would not give up the fight.
"I'm going to stay and get ANWR, there's no question about that. It's going to happen," Stevens told reporters. "If they want to get rid of me, they're going to pass ANWR."
I'm so used to greens doing things like refusing to come down from trees until their insane list of demands are met that I find it wonderfully refreshing that a US senator considers it his life’s work to open up wilderness to human production, and that he’d rather die before letting the work go undone.
::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 3:41 PM |donate | link
Monday, January 09, 2006::
The Culture: Worshiping 'Subsistence'
During the American Bicentennial, my family hosted a cadre of Polish sailors as part of Buffalo, New York’s contribution to “Operation Sail.” While they were here, the Poles wanted to see an Indian reservation. Being close to several, my family gladly obliged. There we were able to witness the lives of tribesmen who lived in shacks without running water. In the shack of the tribal chief, there was a wall of law books. As best as I can recall, the chief explained that it was thorough his knowledge of those books that his people would survive.
Since I was only seven, the Poles’ true interest in the Indians was lost on me at the time. Poland lived under communism and the only people free to leave were those who supported the communist regime. The request to visit an Indian reservation on the 200th anniversary of the American founding was merely an attempt to underscore that America is less than perfect, leaving the Indians in abject poverty, as an example.
Even as a child though, I wasn’t sold on the "broken" America message. As I played with the Indian children, I felt no different toward them then I would any other bunch of kids playing in a sandbox. We were only a half an hour or so away from the city. Even seeing things as a child, I had a hard time believing that the Indians had it bad. Anyone who wanted to live, work and be happy in the city could. If the Indians on the reservation weren’t happy, I sure could not figure out why. In the intervening years, my opinion hasn’t much changed.
Yet as difficult as it was to understand the poverty of the Indians in 1976, it is even more difficult to understand it today. We hear a lot about Indian casinos and reservation gas and tobacco, and I look forward to the day some Indian entrepreneur gets smart and builds a WalMart on reservation land, offering tax-free shopping to his non-Indian neighbors. That will be a great day and we will all be a lot wealthier for it.
Yet it seems that some Indians insist on staying poor. Consider the position of the Gwich'in Athabascans in Alaska, who have been outspoken their opposition to the development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil production. According to Indian Country Today:
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will continue to be locked away to oil drilling, which is a disappointment to the majority of Alaskans who support opening the refuge, but a cause for celebration for the Native tribes who live nearby.
"It was so close, it was going to open, then they fought hard enough and it stayed closed and our prayers are answered," said Margorie Gemmill, an environmental technician for the Arctic Village Council, a tribal council of Gwich'in Athabascans.
. . . [According to the office of Alaskan Gov. Frank Murkowski,] "ANWR is a safe, secure, domestic supply of oil for our nation. It can be developed responsibly, using the most advanced environmental safeguards that ever governed oil development anywhere in the world," the statement read. "This vote sends the world the message that the U.S. supports the production of that oil from areas that lack strong environmental protections and from regions that pose potential threats to our national security."
But Alaska Natives like Gemmill living just south of ANWR fear that opening even the coastal plain to drilling would hurt the Porcupine caribou herd they depend on for their subsistence lifestyle.
“Subsistence lifestyle?” Gemmill somehow considers maintaining a “subsistence lifestyle” the answer to her prayers? You mean to say this woman worships poverty?
The fact is, fully “exploiting” the energy resources of Alaska would be excellent for the Indians—Indians who desire more for their lives then suffering and needless hardship. I, for one would much rather enjoy the beauty of the land from a heated two story winter lodge, complete with picture windows so I could enjoy the northern lights from the comfort of my arm chair, then from a single-wide trailer as I attempt to endure yet another cold, jobless winter.
Yet when one worships the “subsistence lifestyle,” it’s hard to ever move beyond it. It seems that even in the 21st century, some Indians still practice human sacrifice—of the spiritual kind.
::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 11:29 AM |donate | link
Sunday, January 08, 2006::
Rights and Reason: The Virginia Military Institute and Abortion
The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is a curious institution—it is both a military academy and a state-supported college. Its history draws back to before the US Civil War (future confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson served as a professor) and all of its students participated in the late unpleasantness as confederate solders during the battle of New Market. Previously an all-male institution, VMI was opened to women when it lost United States v. Virginia in 1996.
VMI is governed by an honor code that demands that “cadets will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do.” There is only one punishment for breaking the VMI honor code: immediate expulsion from the academy in the form of a “Drum Out” ceremony.
Out of curiosity, I visited the VMI website today and was reading through the “New Cadet Handbook” when I found this:
Marriage and Parenthood. All VMI cadets must live in Barracks and participate in a demanding and rigorous military program that does not permit attention to the duties implicated by marriage or parenthood. Pursuant to the policy adopted by the Board of Visitors, any cadet who marries or becomes a parent is expected to resign from the Corps. Absent voluntary resignation, should the Institute confirm that a cadet is married or the parent of a child, such cadet shall be separated from the Corps for failure of eligibility at the end of the semester in which the information is received and confirmed. For the purpose of the policy, the responsibilities of parenthood are deemed to begin upon a cadet’s learning that a child has been conceived as a result of his or her conduct. [Emphasis added.]
Perhaps VMI’s Board of Visitors have never heard of abortion. I suspect the opposite however; VMI’s policy is nothing more then a cheap way of smuggling anti-abortion policy into the Institute.
VMI’s establishment of parenthood at conception is reprehensible and patently absurd. One does not become a parent upon the formation of a clump of cells. Yet VMI denies a cadet or the cadet partner of a female who has an abortion or takes RU-486 from continuing at VMI on the grounds that either scenario nevertheless makes the cadet a “parent.” Talk about twisting definitions. Furthermore, I don’t know how VMI’s militant (for lack of a better word) anti-abortion policy can be legal, given that it is plainly discriminatory and VMI is a state-supported institution.
I think VMI’s current anti-abortion policy is even worse that its previous refusal to grant admission to women. At least that policy could be defended, however benightedly, on the grounds of long-held tradition. VMI’s current policy only serves to destroy the cadet careers of those who have sex, get pregnant, and then choose to abort their pregnancy.
::: posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 8:57 PM |donate | link