Not-so-awesome people


Here’s a piece I wrote for a recent Cato intern op-ed writing contest:

“You are either with us or with the terrorists,” uttered President Bush in a Congressional address in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, offering the most infamous political false choice of the last decade.  Although this implied ultimatum was aimed at other nations, in the ensuing public discourse it turned into a rhetorical cudgel with which pro-war politicians and pundits beat anyone who dared question the neo-conservative conventional wisdom on national security policy.

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, an influential advisor to the Bush administration, was a particularly loud voice in the post-9/11 neoconservative noise machine, writing columns with titles like “Strike Sooner Than Later”.  It’s ironic, then, that Gingrich and other prominently hawkish conservatives recently seem to be doing all they can to further Osama Bin Laden’s war against the West.

Gingrich recently penned an essay explaining his opposition to the construction of a mosque a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City.  Gingrich writes, “There should be no mosque in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.  The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.”

Put aside for a moment the troubling fact that one of the leading voices of modern conservatism believes that the United States should forsake its proud tradition of religious tolerance and instead mimic Saudi Arabia, a nation that is notorious for its oppressive Islamic monarchy.  What is most alarming about the recent spate of conservative Muslim bashing is that it plays right into the narrative that Bin Laden and other Taliban leaders have constructed.

In a speech several months after 9/11, Bin Laden declared, “It has become clear that the West in general and America in particular have an unspeakable hatred for Islam.”  Just last June, Bin Laden updated his message for the Obama presidency by claiming, “Obama has walked like his predecessors in increasing hostility towards Muslims.”

It was ridiculous when President Bush tried to explain the motivation behind the 9/11 attacks as stemming from the fact that “they hate our freedom.”  People don’t blow themselves up in the name of opposing freedom.  To be driven to such extreme actions, someone must feel deeply threatened.  It is obvious, then, why Bin Laden is attempting to frame the conflict between radical Islamic terrorist groups and the democratic West as a religious war.  The best way to increase Taliban support among Muslims is to show not that the United States and its allies are modern and free, but rather that they stand against Islam itself.

A significant obstacle to Bin Laden’s narrative is the central role that religious tolerance plays in America’s heritage.  It is difficult to understand how the United States could be conceived of as hostile to Muslims as a people when the first line in the Bill of Rights says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Fortunately for Bin Laden, Gingrich, Sarah Palin, New York Congressman Peter King, the staff of the Weekly Standard, and others have been doing all they can to undermine this foundational American principle and provide the anti-Muslim fodder that Bin Laden needs to further his cause.  In a follow up to his original essay against the Ground Zero mosque, Gingrich wrote, “One of our biggest mistakes in the aftermath of 9/11 was naming our response to the attacks ‘the war on terror’ instead of accurately identifying radical Islamists (and the underlying ideology of radical Islamism) as the target of our campaign.”

This statement is not only repugnant to anyone who cares about the values upon which the United States was founded; it also threatens American national security in a direct and obvious way.  As Bin Laden tries to frame the conflict between backward terrorists and western democracy as a war of Islam versus anti-Muslim infidels, a significant faction of the American Right is actively helping him.  If the War on Terror really demands a choice between standing with America or with the terrorists, then Gingrich and his ideological allies need to think long and hard about which side they’re fighting for.

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Occasionally, I become deluded enough to forget the side of some Republicans that is homophobic, racist, creationist, and generally backwards-thinking. I forget how repulsed I am by this behavior and occasionally consider myself a Republican. At least in theory, the Republican Party supports limited government, federalism, and economic liberty. But sometimes I need to be reminded why I should never call myself a Republican.

At CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) this year, Alexander McCobin, head of Students for Liberty and generally cool guy, said in the context of gay rights:

…students today recognize that freedom does not come in pieces.  Freedom is a single thing that applies to the social as well as the economic realms and should be defended at all times.

Subtle boos – by what I hope is becoming a quickly decreasing demographic in the conservative movement – were overshadowed by cheers and applause. Then Ryan Sorba, author of a book called The Born Gay Hoax said

I’d like to condemn CPAC for bringing GOPride [sic] to this event. Civil rights are grounded in natural rights. Natural rights are grounded in human nature. Human nature is a rational substance in relationship to the intelligible end of the reproductive act of reproduction. Do you understand that?

Thankfully, Sorba was met with loud jeering. It made me happy to see that the conservative movement was, at least in this one instance, full of fewer homophobic supporters than true liberty defenders. The world (and the Republican party, if they feel like winning some elections) needs more Alexander McCobin’s and fewer Ryan Sorba’s.

I also think that this instance represents an interesting demographic shift between generations. Ryan Sorba doesn’t look that old, so I wouldn’t say that he’s a completely different generation than mine (aka around college age). But as I’ve briefly blogged about before, gay rights seems to be an issue that young people in general are much more supportive of than their parents.

Watch McCobin’s speech and Sorba’s weak-sauce reply:

No, not really.

But in light of Obama’s recent troop increase, it doesn’t sound that implausible. Obama is sending 30,000 more troops to fight the war in Afghanistan. Forget what one thinks about the legitimacy of said war, just think instead what would have happened if Bush had done this. Everybody left of center would be up in arms (they were). Bush is hated by all of the world, Obama wins the Peace Prize. Such a fact proves, I think, how most people judge politicians not on their actual policy actions but merely on their personality and party platform.

Don’t believe me? Take this fact: Bush gave more aid in terms of money to Africa than any other President in American history. Throughout his two terms, did Republicans criticize him for all of this superfluous spending that was essentially international welfare? No. Did Democrats praise him for his efforts? No. Why? The only reason I can think of is that both sides already had made up their minds about Bush, no matter what he did. Republicans decided they’d trumpet him as a fiscal conservative – which he wasn’t – and Democrats would paint him as an unsympathetic prick.

I always find myself in an awkward position when I am defending Bush in any context. I really dislike(d) the guy’s policies. But the inconsistency of most of the population regarding his actions is laughable. Bush was more liberal than a lot of Democrats in terms of immigration, he increased federal spending on education an absurd amount, spent more on the arts than any other President, and except for tax cuts, wasn’t really a fiscal conservative. But most progressives, when asked for a synopsis of the man’s Presidency, will probably give a formulaic regurgitation showing a southern oil man who cares about nobody but the rich. Then you tell them about how he’s relatively liberal on immigration. Or how that social security privatization idea that sounds good them was pushed by, uh, him.

Bush should not get the Noble Peace Prize. Ever. But sometimes it’s important to judge Obama with the same critical lens that we viewed Bush through for 8 years.

Economies are complex systems, so actions that individuals, and especially governments, take often have unforeseen effects.  Here is Air America reporting on recent credit card reforms in Australia:

In 2003, after years of lobbying from merchants, the Australian central bank cut Visa and MasterCard’s interchange fees in half. Those lower fees cost the credit card giants about 1 billion Australian dollars.

But banks and credit card companies are famous for their ability to find new revenue streams, and soon they turned to consumers to make up the difference. Australian banks cut credit card perks and shrunk rewards programs, like frequent-flier miles. They ramped up interest charges and raised annual fees.

The new law passed Down Under also made it possible for merchants to impose surcharges on transactions made with a credit card and even though their interchange fees had been cut in half, many Australian companies began do to just that. In some cases, these new fees exceeded the old ones.

It would be great if the US Congress would study the Australian example as it considers passing additional reforms to supplement the CARD act from last spring.  I hope that we can at least avoid the brain dead economic free-lunchism  of an interest rate cap, which is unfortunately but unsurprisingly being pushed by my own state’s junior senator, Bernie Sanders, who has proudly been ignoring basic economics ever since the people of Burlington were foolish enough to elect him mayor in 1981.

  • Arianna Huffington: Is current high unemployment Obama’s Katrina?
  • Gary Becker on China’s decisions regarding its currency.
  • Youtube: The future of the Republican Party (hopefully not, for everyone’s sake).
  • Steve Chapman: Chicago politicians’ hypocrisy on guns.
  • David Rogers: War should be ‘Pay as You Fight’.
  • Paul Krugman: Stop worrying about the deficit.
  • Ian Ayres: California’s Tuition hikes might not be so bad after all.

As my high school’s class president, I participated with my Congressman, Mark Kirk, in doing some service projects and other miscellaneous activities. Although I didn’t agree with him on every issue, I still found him to be a standup guy and a good representation of the northern suburbs of Chicago: pro-environment, pro-gun control, pro-Iraq War, pro-tax cuts, pro-stem cell research, pro choice, etc.

Kirk came under fire from conservatives all around over the summer when he was one of nine house Republicans to vote in favor of the Waxman-Markey climate bill. I thought the bill was pretty ripe with inefficient ways to tackle global warming, but I still mentally supported Kirk because I thought he was a better alternative to the hyper-liberal that runs against him named Dan Seals.

While I won’t throw any sort of support to Dan Seals, I have officially stopped supporting Kirk in any way. Why? Kirk has sought the endorsement of anti-intellectual superstar Sarah Palin in his bid for the United States Senate. First of all, I think he’s an idiot for thinking this will help him. Second of all, it’s Sarah Palin.

I just got back home from seeing Michael Moore’s  Capitalism: A Love Story, and I almost walked out (I probably would have, had I not been watching with my mom and brother).  I’m not a Michael Moore hater; I actually kind of liked some parts of Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.  But this was just awful.  The gonzo stunts that Moore has become known for were uninspired duplicates of scenes from his previous films, and he didn’t have any particularly funny jokes.  Humor took a backseat in this film to Moore’s incredibly misguided critique of capitalism.

Moore highlights some tragic, probably legitimate injustices in the movie (although their presentation is surely slanted), but the movie overall is not just misleading; it’s a truly despicable piece of trash that makes people who watch it stupider and reduces the quality of public discourse.

As W. Jerome wrote last month, Moore conflates capitalism with corporatism throughout the film.  Among the vignettes that Moore uses to condemn capitalism are a judge who takes cash payments to imprison juveniles and increase profits of his detention facility owning friends, legislators and cabinet officials who get special deals on home loans, and former Wall Street executives who use their powerful posts in the treasury department to funnel taxpayer money to their old employers.  Moore uses the word “capitalism” to refer generally to “things that are evil” (he even says, “capitalism is an evil, and you can’t regulate evil”).

For reference, here is Wikipedia’s definition of capitalism: “an economic and social system in which the means of production (also known as capital) are privately controlled; labor, goods and capital are traded in a market; profits are distributed to owners or invested in new technologies and industries; and wages are paid to labor.”  Moore uses this movie to obscure for his viewers what the word “capitalism” actually means.  Therefore, when a free-market friendly person defends capitalism, people who have seen Capitalism: A Love Story will attribute a different meaning to that person’s words than that person herself intends.  It’s impossible to have a meaningful, productive conversation when the participants are literally not speaking the same language.  Moore cultivates confusion on a topic which badly needs conceptual clarification.

There is nothing wrong with a critique of free market economics (see?  I can’t even use the word capitalism here, because I’m afraid that it will be unclear!) on its merits, but Moore’s movie is nothing of the sort.    And I’m honestly ashamed (although not at all surprised) that one of my beloved home state’s senators (Bernie Sanders) makes a cameo appearance.  Yuck.

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