Free Markets, Free People

Freedom and Liberty

A Recipe For Economic Disaster

A level of economic government intrusion is now being contemplated like none we’ve ever seen before.  If you didn’t understand the one of the main purposes of the tea parties, perhaps this will help.

But what Obama rarely says about ending the “cycle of bubble and bust” is this: he’s prepared to intervene to make sure that kind of red-hot growth doesn’t occur.

And he’s willing to do it with added government regulation if needed to prevent any one sector of the economy from getting out of balance – the way the dot-com boom did in the 1990s and the real-estate market did earlier this decade.

According to Austan Goolsbee, a key Obama economic adviser, the president plans to focus on stopping bubbles along with preventing busts. And in an interview with POLITICO, Goolsbee said the administration will be on the lookout for new bubbles, like the tech stocks or housing prices.

If new threats are spotted, he said Obama would use “regulatory oversight to prevent guys who want to make a quick buck from doing real harm to the economy. . .That is what it means to get out of the bubble and bust cycle.”

In other words, government would decide what is or isn’t a “bubble” and move to stop what it determines is a bubble. As CATO points out, one man’s expansion might be another’s “bubble”. Are you comfortable with government calling that shot?

And government would also arbitrarily decide who was or wasn’t entitled to profit from that market – it would be the final determiner of who was or wasn’t making a “quick buck” from the growth.

Any idea what that would do to any market in which the government stepped in to slow down?

Yeah, nothing could go wrong that that idea, could it?

Bottom line: you have a governing elite picking winners and losers.

Thankfully, it isn’t quite as easy as you might imagine to do what Goolsbee and Obama would like to do.

…[T]here’s not much an administration can do in practical terms to burst a developing bubble. The best way to cool things down is raising interest rates, which is the purview of the Federal Reserve. Another option would be for regulators to order banks to curtail lending to buyers of certain kinds of assets.

The lesson here, of course isn’t necessary the plan itself, but the fact that those in a position of power are contemplating this seriously. Those aren’t the plans of a moderate, and certainly not those of a capitalist. They’re the plans of a group who apparently believes that complex economies can indeed be controlled and manipulated successfully from above.

Amazing hubris. Even more amazing arrogance. Most importantly, incredibly dangerous economic thinking.

~McQ

Torture…Again

I have to admit to some surprise in seeing Michael’s post on torture below.  QandO has been pretty much opposed to the use of torture, and we’ve taken some heat for it every time the subject has come up.  But, once you open up a libertarian blog to others to write for it, and tell them to feel free to write their own opinions without prejudice or favor, then,  before you know it, they go off getting ideas of their own, disagreeing with you, and generally acting with an outrageous sense of independence.

What’re you gonna do?

I understand the attraction of torture, both on utilitarian grounds, and in terms of what I will call “emotional reciprocity”, so I won’t re-cover Michael’s arguments, tendered, as they are, more inquisitively than asseveratively.

When I speak of “torture”, I want to be sure that we all have the same thing in mind when I use the word.  So I will define it here as the intentional application of physical pain, accompanied by the possibility of permanent injury, scarring, derangement, or death.  This will, I think, encompass the entire spectrum pf physical discomfort comfort from beatings to anything else more severe.  I specifically reject a definition of torture that includes psychological pressure, such as putting a particularly nasty-looking beetle in the cell of a prisoner who’s afraid of bugs.  I also reject questioning methods as sleep deprivation for a couple of days, or discomfort from keeping the air conditioning too low as torture.  These things might be unpleasant, but they are not physically or mentally harmful in any significant sense.

It’s possible to construct any number of scenarios in which torture is acceptable–perhaps even moral.  But that doesn’t negate the general rule that torture is, in fact, wrong.To continue, I would then proceed to the question, “Is torture always wrong?”  Well, that’s a silly formulation of the question.  In every human action, context matters.  I think there is general agreement that lying is generally wrong, yet if a terrified woman approaches us and pleads for us to hide her from a crazed stalker who intends to kill her, I think there is also general agreement that if the stalker subsequently approaches us, we would have a positive moral duty to lie to the stalker and deny any knowledge of her whereabouts.  There might also be general agreement that lying has a social purpose at times, in the sense that the answer to the question “Does this dress make me look fat?” is pretty much always, “No.”

In light of the above, it’s possible, then, to construct any number of scenarios in which torture is acceptable–perhaps even moral.  But that doesn’t negate the general rule that torture is, in fact, wrong, in the widest range of circumstances.  If we actually believe in all that stuff about “inalienable rights”, then certainly the right not to have hot needles shoved under our nails is one of them.

Beyond that, however, we enter a terrifically complicated area, when we begin to discuss giving the government the power to have recourse to torture as a matter of policy.  As a practical matter, it is nearly impossible to construct a system in which any official sanction to torture will not inevitably spiral out of control.  Once a set of rules is in place–any set of rules–there will inevitably be torture imposed on anyone on whom an official wishes to impose it.  Officials will ensure that the rules will apply to the persons they wish to torture.  Sure, the guy may look like an innocent Kabul taxi driver, but there will always be an official who “knows” better, and who will ensure that all the proper boxes are checked before the flensing knives are brought out.

We have elaborate rules, for instance, covering the issuance of search warrants, and severe criminal and civil sanctions for their abuse, yet, oddly enough, police agencies fairly routinely deliver no-knock drug warrants on innocent homeowners, which, not infrequently, result in homeowners or policemen getting shot.  Or in the case of 90 year-old Kathryn Johnson in Atlanta several months ago, police just ignore those rules, and seek to provide creative ex post facto justifications.  In that case, of course, we learned that such actions were not at all uncommon in portions of the Atlanta PD.

It is nearly impossible to construct a system in which any official sanction to torture will not inevitably spiral out of control.Providing legal sanction to use torture invites similar overzealousness on the part of officials.  Moreover, if the government can point to some cases of torture’s utility, the pressure to increase the range of acceptable subjects will inevitably increase–just as the drug war has increased the incidence of no-knock warrants being issued to “take down” non-violent drug offenders.  And, frankly, we haven’t done a very good job of guarding the slippery slope in these and similar areas of government activity.

That doesn’t make me sanguine about giving the government the legal sanction to engage in torture, especially in an environment where heathen foreigners will be on the receiving end of it, and their redress in case of mistakes are…limited.  That seems to me to have all the element necessary for an unconscionable abuse of power.

Now, let’s look at the question of whether torture works.  That answer to that is, yes, but not reliably.  There are a number of celebrated cases in World War II where French or Yugoslav partisans were captured by the Germans, turned over to the Gestapo, and essentially tortured to death without telling the Germans anything.  We also have, conversely, literally thousands of “confessions” of witchcraft during the Inquisition, extracted under torture.

What does that tell us?  Well, nothing really that we didn’t already know, which is that if you wish to get a suspect to talk, 220 volts to the genitals will probably work better than a medium-rare steak au poivre with shallots, and a robust glass of Côte de Nuits.

Whether the subject can be relied upon to tell you the truth, or just what he thinks you want to hear, is more problematic.  Torture can work–by which I mean you can receive reliable information from it– through the following iterative process:

1) The subject can be induced to talk through physical pain.  You can eventually get someone to tell you something, if enough torture is applied.  To ensure that something is useful,

2) You must be able to verify the subject’s information in whole, and provide…correction if any part of the subject’s statement appears to be untrue.

You must be able to repeat the above steps until the subject is convinced of your ability to verify his statements and punish evasions or subterfuges.  This can, needless to say, become an elaborate process.  If you can’t go through the process, then you don’t really know if you’re getting reliable information from it, or if the subject is shining you on to obtain relief.  Perhaps he’s telling you the truth.  Perhaps he’s just getting you to look askance at an innocent taxi driver in Kabul.

Michael asked:

Moreover, if it really is ineffectual, why does it continue to happen? Clearly, somebody somewhere is getting results.

Two things come to mind.

First, the vast majority of torture use, both historically, and in the modern world among those regimes that use it, is directed to obtaining confessions of guilt from criminal suspects.  It comes as no surprise that it’s highly effective at obtaining them.  Again, I refer to the Inquisition, where the possibility of death at some unspecified future date became more attractive than than the prospect of a continuance on the rack in the present case.

Second, as I wrote previously, torture does provide more information than would be obtained by abstaining from it.  One wonders, however, how much of that information is actually reliable, as opposed to how much of that information is beleived to be reliable by officials. Or simply politically convenient.  Those two latter  things may not, in fact, be the same as the former.

Finally, the question arises, “who do we torture?”  Certainly, every real terror suspect has some knowledge that can be useful.  Do we get to torture all of them?   Most of the justifications I’ve seen would give us the option to torture someone in a ticking bomb scenario.  Which sounds nice…if you actually know there’s a ticking bomb.  In the normal scheme of things, though, you really need to torture people to find out if a ticking bomb exists, not to figure out where it is.

The vast majority of torture use among those regimes that use it, is directed to obtaining confessions of guilt from criminal suspects.  It comes as no surprise that it’s highly effective at obtaining them.Or do we just torture the higher-ups in the terrorist movement, as a sort of fishing expedition?  This is, I gather, the justification for the interrogation techniques used on some of the al Qaeda biggies.  We thought they were up to something, and we used harsh interrogation to find out what they knew.

The most interesting thing about that is that we didn’t have to brand these guys with hot pokers to get them to give it up.  These guys apparently have little resistance.  Threaten to open a box of StayFree® Maxi-Pads in front of them, and they sing like superstars.  So maybe we got lucky in that some of these guys were easy marks.

But, as the Gestapo experience of WWII shows, sometimes, people will let you torture them to death without telling you anything.  Even in Vietnam, our POWs in Hanoi would resist real, actual torture for extended periods before giving up a “confession” to their captors.

But I digress.

Either you are going to define the torture-liable population so broadly, that officials will pretty much have a license to torture, or so narrowly that, as a practical matter, you’ll never use it.  If the former, you’ve got a slippery slope problem, if the latter, it’s not useful enough to even worry about sanctioning it, rather than just worrying about it on an ad hoc basis.

What would this guy do?

What would this guy do?

Jonah Goldberg has written often about the unwritten law, vs. the written law. Fifty years ago, it was against the law for the police to dispense street justice.  In practice, the beat cop, who walked the same neighborhood day after day and who knew the residents, would occasionally rough up some troublemakers pour encourager les autres, and in so doing, kept the peace on his block.  It wasn’t legally sanctioned, but it worked–and the cop knew that when he did it, he was risking at least his career, if it became a problem.

For a variety of reasons discussed above, as well as other, more prudential reasons in terms of the country’s image, and diplomatic reputation, I’d prefer never to see torture be enshrined in the written law.

I’ve noted before that, when I was on active duty, if I’d ever been faced with getting caught behind enemy lines in a Soviet attack in Europe, I would like to have the option of capturing a Russian officer, and finding out how to get back to our lines.  And, if I had to hook up a field telephone, and make a collect call to his genitals, I’d do it without blinking, if that’s what it took to get my guys back home alive.

I wouldn’t brag about it, or mention it to anyone in responsible authority later, but if I got found out, I’d expect to take the Court-Martial.  And, as long as I’d gotten my guys out, I’d have been happy to do it.

Necessity, it’s often said, knows no law.  But the law shouldn’t explicitly bow to necessity. I would rather have it understood that any torture inflicted is done without sanction, and the official authorizing the torture may be in danger of serious sanctions if he uses it.

It’s probably not the best solution.  But, on balance, I think it’s a better solution than giving the government explicit permission to conduct torture however they see fit.  Torture is problematic for a number of reasons, and the ethics of engaging in it are, at the very least, difficult to parse.  And, as Michael should well know, “hard cases make bad law”.

UPDATE [McQ]: What Dale said.

Torture: What Is It Good For?

Paralleling the song, the answer should be “absolutely nothing” with a testosterone laced “Huhn!” thrown in for good measure. Personally, I have my doubts.

This is not a new topic here at QandO, as my esteemed brethren have weighed in on numerous occasions, each time settling on an emphatic “No! Torture is not acceptable.” While it would be difficult, if not impossible, to put into words the esteem that I hold for my blog brothers, I have to say that I disagree. That may be because I have never been in the military, nor been subjected to anything close to the sort of forced life-or-death decision making that breeds a camaraderie distinct unto itself. And it may be because I have the luxury (thanks to said camaraderie) to simply ponder these things at my leisure. Just the same, I cannot say that I am opposed to torture of our nation’s enemies, nor can I honestly say that any experience will change my opinion.

First, the reason I even broach the subject: release of “secret torture memos” (link added):

President Barack Obama’s administration said it would Thursday release four memos, with sections blacked out, covering the Bush administration’s justification for CIA interrogations of terror suspects … The memos were authored by Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury, who at the time were lawyers for the then-president George W. Bush’s Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel.

The memos provided the legal framework for a program of interrogations of “war on terror” detainees that included techniques widely regarded as torture such as waterboarding, in which a detainee is made to feel like he is drowning.

I have not read the memos, and I probably won’t. The sole reason being that I’ve slogged through enough of these legal documents to have a pretty good idea of what’s in there, and to know that there is plenty of qualifying language to mitigate whatever damning quotes are eventually culled therefrom. In point of fact, these “memos” are little more than legal research projects specifically drafted so as to provide both the underlying judicial framework for the issue at hand, and the best guess at how the current policy might fit into that framework under certain factual parameters. They are merely legalese for “this is what the law says, and this is how the policy may not run afoul of that law.”

Leaving aside definitional problems (does being confined with an insect constitute “torture”?), let’s just assume that what the memos described was not only policy, but a policy that was carried out. Why is that a bad thing?

Tom Maguire provides some thoughts:

IN OUR NAME: The newly released torture memos are cold-blooded and clearly client-driven – the lawyers knew the answers they wanted and reasoned backwards. Quick thoughts:

1. The US concern about actually harming someone comes through on every page. In fact, at one point (p. 36 of .pdf) the legal team wonders whether it would be illegal for the interrogators to threaten or imply that conditions for the prisoner could get even worse unless they cooperate. I suppose these memos will provide welcome reassurance of our underlying civility to both the world community and the terrorists in it.

2. There are some fascinating legal gymnastics on display. My favorite might be on p. 39, where we learn that Article 16 of the Geneva Convention does not apply because the CIA is operating in areas not under US jurisdiction. Nor do the protections of the US Constitution extend to aliens being held prisoner under US control but abroad outside of US jurisdiction.

However, another contender for the “It Would Take A Lawyer To Think Of This” prize is the argument that waterboarding does not constitute a threat of imminent death because, even though the prisoner thinks they are drowning, they are not, and anyway, the mental effect is transitory and does not result in long term mental harm – call it the “Psych!” defense. (The absence of long term harm comes from the experience of US sailors and soldiers passing through SERE school in the service of their country; whether a jihadist waterboarded by the Great Satan would also rebound psychologically is not explored here). I would think that a game of Russian Roulette played with a fake bullet might pass all these requirements other than the SERE experience.

Tom’s comparison to Russian Roulette intrigues me because I think it is the perfect analogy. I’ve written before that, in my opinion, waterboarding crosses the legal line because of the way the law is written. I’ve never been convinced that the technique crosses any moral boundary because I’m not so sure that it’s any different than placing a caterpillar in the same cell as a man who’s deathly afraid of caterpillars. Playing on the mind’s fears is part and parcel of both manipulation and torture, but does not mean that the two are equivalent. Morally speaking, therefore, I have doubts that techniques akin to waterboarding amount to “torture” per se.

But assuming that they do, again, what exactly is the problem? Aficionados of the subject will say that torture is ineffectual. Yet, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would appear to be a test case in contrast to that wisdom, as would the fact that our own soldiers are routinely informed that “everyone breaks eventually.” Moreover, if it really is ineffectual, why does it continue to happen? Clearly, somebody somewhere is getting results.

Even leaving aside the efficacy vel non of torture, does it hold such moral deficiency as to abandon it altogether? Here I plead ignorance because, in my mind, I view enemies to my country as enemies to my family. By that I mean, if anyone were to hurt, or even threaten to hurt, a member of my family, I can’t even begin to express the unholy hell I would visit upon such a cretin. When I view A Time To Kill I can’t help but think that that the murderous, rapist scum got off too lightly (which, of course, was the point of Grisham’s characterization). Other than the fear of anything nefarious happening to my children, my greatest fear is of what I would try to do to those who hurt them or even suggested that they might do so. I have the same feeling when it comes to anyone who seeks to destroy my country and her citizens with whom I’ve (gratefully) cast my lot. My morality directs me to say that what any of you visit upon the least of my fellow countrymen, I will repay you a thousandfold and more. That may be my Irish bravado speaking, but it speaks as honestly as any man possibly can.

So I am left with the conundrum of how my actions in response to an attack on my family should be any different than an attack on my country, and why I should feel any differently about the perpetrators of such actions, whether they have followed through with their plans or not. I understand that my response — i.e. the sanctioning of “torture” — may not be entirely rational. Indeed, if a firetruck runs over my child while rushing to save an orphanage, I would feel no less grief, and probably wish an equal amount of horror upon the transgressors as I would upon 19 hijackers who murdered 3,000 of of my fellow citizens. In fact, probably more. There is nothing particularly rational in such a response. But I have little confidence that, should I have the chance to avoid either disaster, I would refrain from running the perpetrators’ minds through a psychological cheese grater if there was even a small chance that the disaster could be avoided. That may be little more than a testament to my weakness as a moral human being, but I think that I’m not alone.

Torture, however defined, is not a pretty thing. I make no bones about having zero regard for my enemies (i.e. those who want to destroy my country a la 9/11). If subjecting them to extreme psychological and/or physical discomfort, or the threat of such, will prevent further attacks, then I confess that I am happy to reward those monsters with the penalty they richly deserve. I accept that I may be wrong in such thinking, but I don’t find that case has been successfully made as of yet. Indeed, I defy you to take this test and declare that “torture” can never be acceptable.

The ultimate point is, torture is a horrible thing and should be avoided if at all humanly possible. But, unfortunately, we live in a world where the “humanly possible” has limits. In those cases, why is it that torture should be off limits? Is there a rational reason? I’m willing to be convinced, but I have my doubts.

Department Of Homeland Security Reacts

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano reacts to the uproar over the, and I use the phrase very loosely when referring to it, “analysis and intelligence” report released by her department on “rightwing extremists”:

The primary mission of this department is to prevent terrorist attacks on our nation. The document on right-wing extremism sent last week by this department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis is one in an ongoing series of assessments to provide situational awareness to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies on the phenomenon and trends of violent radicalization in the United States. I was briefed on the general topic, which is one that struck a nerve as someone personally involved in the Timothy McVeigh prosecution.

Let me be very clear: we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States. We don’t have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence.

We are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not – nor will we ever – monitor ideology or political beliefs. We take seriously our responsibility to protect the civil rights and liberties of the American people, including subjecting our activities to rigorous oversight from numerous internal and external sources.

I am aware of the letter from American Legion National Commander Rehbein, and my staff has already contacted him to set up a meeting next week once I return from travel. I will tell him face-to-face that we honor veterans at DHS and employ thousands across the department, up to and including the Deputy Secretary.

As the department responsible for protecting the homeland, DHS will continue to work with its state and local partners to prevent and protect against the potential threat to the United States associated with any rise in violent extremist activity.

A couple of points – if what we saw is the level of intelligence the department is gathering and is indicative of the sophistication of the analysis it sees fit to publish, we are all in very deep trouble. That is one of the worst products I’ve ever seen produced by an agency anywhere, and I’ve read hundreds of intelligence analysis in my time. No specifics, vague and over-generalized threats, and nonsensical reasoning were its hallmark. That was my primary problem with it. As I pointed out, half of America, to include the news media, falls under their “rightwing extremist” umbrella.

Secondly, as the commander of the American Legion so aptly put it, the report resorted to a “casual defamation” of all soldiers with its claim that they were likely to be recruited by right wing hate groups. So yeah, she needs to meet with him and she needs to apologize for that ‘casual defamation’ and also admit that the product that was sent out was, to be kind, a piece of crap.

~McQ

You Might Be A Right-Wing Extremist If …

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, the Department of Homeland Security has apparently decided it is necessary to warn the nation’s law enforcement agencies about a new and growing threat – right-wing extremists.

For instance, you  might be a right-wing extremist if you’re a member of any groups:

“…that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration …”

The report, entitled “Right-Wing Extremism – Current Economic and Political Climate Refueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”, doesn’t mention whether those who are on the left and dedicated to single-issues, such as support for abortion or unlimited immigration might be extremists as well.

You can read the report here. (pdf)

David Weigel of the Washington Independent has trouble understanding the right-wing outrage this report sparks:

Seriously, though, I struggle to find anything wrong in a close — not a willfully obtuse — reading of the report.

Well maybe it’s the little things, David – like the apparent belief by DHS that any problem brewing domestically will occur only on the right. And perhaps it is implication that soldiers are likely to succumb to the draw of radical right-wingers:

Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.

Of course they have to go back to the early ’90s and Timothy McVeigh to substantiate this claim. Apparently they’ve been unable to find any more recent possible problems on which to pin their caution. And of course they also use as intel a claim made on a white-supremacist web-site which claimed (without any proof) that “large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the [U.S.] armed forces.”

Well, there you go!

My favorite “you might be a right-wing extremist if” moment came with this little tidbit from DHS:

Rightwing extremist chatter on the Internet continues to focus on the economy, the perceived loss of U.S. jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors, and home foreclosures.

The “perceived loss of US jobs?!” Heh … well I guess we won’t need all of that ‘stimulus’ money for unemployment if they’re only perceived losses, huh? But look at the topics – “extremist chatter” focuses on “the economy … jobs … and home forclosures?” Heck, then half the news media is extremist. And we here at QandO fall into that camp. And that’s with a less than obtuse reading of the sentence above, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Weigel?

And of course, DHS covers guns, gun laws and the current gun buying spree in a rather amusing way:

Open source reporting of wartime ammunition shortages has likely spurred rightwing extremists—as well as law-abiding Americans—to make bulk purchases of ammunition. These shortages have increased the cost of ammunition, further exacerbating rightwing extremist paranoia and leading to further stockpiling activity.  Both rightwing extremists and law-abiding citizens share a belief that rising crime rates attributed to a slumping economy make the purchase of legitimate firearms a wise move at this time.

So when you buy that gun and ammo, which is it? Is it because you’re a paranoid rightwing extremist or a law abiding citizen who thinks such a purchase is a “wise move at this time”? Only DHS knows for sure. But if you’ve happened to write about the “perceived loss of US jobs”, the economy or “home foreclosures” on the internet and are a military veteran, I imagine you can figure out into which category you fall (heh … me included).

And don’t you dare be a state’s rights guy who believes that the federal government should respect the 10th Amendment:

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.

In all, DHS is convinced that the economic downturn along with the “historic Presidental election”, code for “hey, we elected a black guy”, ensures a return to the ’90s and the rise of skin heads and militias.

By the way, you weren’t supposed to know about any of this.

LAW ENFORCEMENT INFORMATION NOTICE: This product contains Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES) information. No portion of the LES information should be released to the media, the general public, or over non-secure Internet servers. Release of this information could adversely affect or jeopardize investigative activities.

In reality it contains a bunch of warmed over nonsense, conjecture and unsubstantiated cites from anonymous websites. But remember, don’t tell anyone in the media about this BS passed off as “Intelligence and Analysis” because if they ever got wind of it they’d conclude there was very little analysis or intelligence on display in the document – and we wouldn’t want to embarrass DHS, would we?

Hope and change.

~McQ

Free Speech Under Assault In The West

Is it driven by fear?

Jonathan Turley, writing in the Washington Post, says that much of the West is becoming increasingly intolerant of certain speech.

But now an equally troubling trend is developing in the West. Ever since 2006, when Muslims worldwide rioted over newspaper cartoons picturing the prophet Muhammad, Western countries, too, have been prosecuting more individuals for criticizing religion. The “Free World,” it appears, may be losing faith in free speech.

Among the new blasphemers is legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot, who was convicted last June of “inciting religious hatred” for a letter she wrote in 2006 to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, saying that Muslims were ruining France. It was her fourth criminal citation for expressing intolerant views of Muslims and homosexuals. Other Western countries, including Canada and Britain, are also cracking down on religious critics.

Tolerance, it seems, is only reserved for speech which praises tolerance. If, instead, the speaker is intolerant of things for which the state believes they should be tolerant, there is no tolerance.

Heh … yeah, fairly convoluted but it certainly appears to be the case. And, of course, not all religions are equal in that regard. Speak of Islam or Muslims as Bardot did in France and face charges. Say similar things about Christianity, and expect your speech to be greeted with … tolerance.

There’s a movement within the UN to ban religious defamation. It is backed by such paragons of religious freedom as Saudi Arabia. Imagine the fate of someone like Christopher Hitchens should such a resolution pass – it would certainly limit his ability, and most likely his desire, to travel, unless he’s willing to risk being jailed in some backwater theocracy for blasphemy and the defamation of religion.

As it turns out, it doesn’t even have to be a backwater theocracy for that to happen any more:

While it hasn’t gone so far as to support the U.N. resolution, the West is prosecuting “religious hatred” cases under anti-discrimination and hate-crime laws. British citizens can be arrested and prosecuted under the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act, which makes it a crime to “abuse” religion. In 2008, a 15-year-old boy was arrested for holding up a sign reading “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult” outside the organization’s London headquarters. Earlier this year, the British police issued a public warning that insulting Scientology would now be treated as a crime.

And, of course, you remember the infamous Canadian Human Rights Commission “trail” of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant for daring to speak ill of Islam.

And, of course, this caught my eye in Turley’s article:

No question, the subjects of such prosecutions are often anti-religious — especially anti-Muslim — and intolerant. Consider far-right Austrian legislator Susanne Winter. She recently denounced Mohammad as a pedophile for his marriage to 6-year-old Aisha, which was consummated when she was 9. Winter also suggested that Muslim men should commit bestiality rather than have sex with children. Under an Austrian law criminalizing “degradation of religious doctrines,” the 51-year-old politician was sentenced in January to a fine of 24,000 euros ($31,000) and a three-month suspended prison term.

No doubt, then, this is just fine by the Austrians. After all, it is merely the implementation of the “religious doctrine” they feel compelled to protect by suppressing free speech:

A Saudi judge has refused for a second time to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man, a relative of the girl told CNN.

The most recent ruling, in which the judge upheld his original verdict, was handed down Saturday in the Saudi city of Onaiza, where late last year the same judge rejected a petition from the girl’s mother, who was seeking a divorce for her daughter.

Why should Austria say nothing about this?

“We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls,” he said, according to the newspaper. “We should know that Sharia law has not brought injustice to women.”

That’s right – because pointing out this outrage against children would be considered a “degredation of religious doctrine” and the Gestapo state would prosecute you and put you in jail.

It’s a sad day for free speech when speaking out against blatant child abuse and, more likely, pedophilia, can be considered a crime punishable by jail, isn’t it?

In fact, it is a sad day for free speech when – in the name of “tolerance” and “acceptance” for things which have never been tolerated or acceptable in Western culture – speech is suppressed and punished.

But here we are.

~McQ

Enabling Theft Should Be Punished, Not Encouraged

This is, at least to me, an example of the entitlement mentality which has been fostered in this country:

When the woman who calls herself Queen Omega moved into a three-bedroom house here last December, she introduced herself to the neighbors, signed contracts for electricity and water and ordered an Internet connection.

What she did not tell anyone was that she had no legal right to be in the home.

Ms. Omega, 48, is one of the beneficiaries of the foreclosure crisis. Through a small advocacy group of local volunteers called Take Back the Land, she moved from a friend’s couch into a newly empty house that sold just a few years ago for more than $400,000.

Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said about a dozen advocacy groups around the country were actively moving homeless people into vacant homes — some working in secret, others, like Take Back the Land, operating openly.

The entitlement mentality is further enabled by morally misguided groups that confuse legitimate civil rights concerns with outright theft:

In addition to squatting, some advocacy groups have organized civil disobedience actions in which borrowers or renters refuse to leave homes after foreclosure.

I have some empathy for those who find themselves in a situation where they are forced from their homes because they can’t afford to pay what they agreed to pay (and I’m especially sympathetic to those who have children). But I cannot condone activities which assume a “right” to something they don’t own. And I certainly don’t define actions to secure what isn’t rightfully theirs as “civil disobedience”.

It’s theft. Property rights are a fundamental building block of a free society. Allow the subversion of those rights and the society won’t be free for long.

And groups and “community organizers” that encourage such subversion or enable the thieves are accessories to theft and should be treated as such.

Instead, they’ll most likely receive federal “stimulus” money.

~McQ

Silver Lining?

The big Econo-boys are weighing in on the state of the economy, and providing a consensus opinion on the coming economic recovery.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

Economists in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey expect the recession to end in September, though most say it won’t be until the second half of 2010 that the economy recovers enough to bring down unemployment.

Gross domestic product was predicted to contract in the first and second quarters of this year by 5.0% and 1.8%, respectively, on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate. A return to growth — a modest 0.4% — isn’t expected until the third quarter. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the most recent period for which data are available, the economy contracted 6.3%.

The outlook for employment isn’t quite as good, though.

Just 12% of the economists expect the unemployment rate to fall some time this year. More than a third of respondents expect the jobless rate to peak in the first half of 2010, while about half don’t see unemployment declining until the second half of 2010. By December of this year, the economists on average expect the unemployment rate to reach 9.5%, up from the 8.5% reported for March. They do see the rate of decline slowing, forecasting 2.6 million job losses in the next 12 months, compared with the 4.8 million jobs lost in the previous period.

I’m a bit more negative on the above.  As of today, weekly initial unemployment claims are still at 650,000 per week.  If that keeps up, we’ll continue to see 0.5% increases in unemployment on a monthly basis.  We might be at 9% by next month, nevermind December.

I’m also concerned about the implications of the rabid expansion of the monetary base over the last 7 months, during which it essentially doubled.  If that  impacts signifigantly on inflation by the end of the year, then we’ll be between a rock and a hard place with a weak economy, and signifigant inflation.  Any Fed moves to contract the monetary base will crater the economy, in much the same way that Paul Volcker’s Fed did in causing the back to back recession of 1981-1982.

There are still treacherous shoals to navigate for the economy before I begin to get bullish on economic growth again.

By A Small Majority, Americans Think Capitalism Is Better Than Socialism

This should disturb a good number of you – it certainly did me. It shows you how effective the indoctrination of our youth has been. Don’t forget the radical students of 1969 are the tenured professors of ’09.  It also demonstrates something else just as disturbing that I’ll get too at the end of the post:

Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.

Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.

As you’ll note, the older someone is, the more likely they are to understand what socialism is and how it is inferior to captialism. The under 30 crowd, with no wisdom and little practical experience outside of academia – not to mention having not yet completly traded their utopian fantasies for the best practical system which has been shown to work – have a large group who either believe socialism is better or just aren’t with it enough to have an opinion.

Once past 30, and having put a few years under their belt in the real world, suddenly the utopian scales begin to fall from their eyes and they have a bit of an epiphany. As for those over 40 being so strongly for capitalism, most of them remember the old USSR and how well socialism worked there.

As you might imagine, there’s an ideological divide as well:

There is a partisan gap as well. Republicans – by an 11-to-1 margin – favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism. As for those not affiliated with either major political party, 48% say capitalism is best, and 21% opt for socialism.

Compare the results above to a poll taken in December of 2008:

As the incoming Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership scramble for ways to right the U.S. economy, 70% of U.S. voters say a free market is better than one managed by the government.

Just 15% say a government-managed economy is best, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.

Question: In the intervening months, what system and what players has the Obama administration demonized?

Answer: Capitalism and capitalists.

Gee, I wonder why?

~McQ

Smearing Glenn Beck

In what I can only surmise is the latest talking point to emerge from JournoList, Glenn Beck has replaced Rush Limbaugh as

JournoList?

JournoList?

the token leader of the Republican Party, against whom all manner of mud will be slung. Reminiscent of the Clinton years, talk radio hosts are being assailed as the progenitors of hate, and even being blamed for recent shootings such as that in Pittsburgh. All of this nonsense, of course, but the smears will be cast about by lefty cohorts just the same.

The most recent offering is from Michael A. Cohen writing at Politico, entitled “Extremist rhetoric won’t rebuild the GOP”:

Watching Fox News’ new sensation Glenn Beck is not for the faint of heart. It is a disquieting entree into the feverish mind of a conspiracy theorist who believes, among other things, that the government wants to remotely control our thermostats, that the relaxing of the ban on stem cell research — as well as efforts to prevent global warming — is reminiscent of Nazism, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be setting up concentration camps and, finally, that the country is on the path to socialism or possibly fascism but definitely some “-ism” that should be avoided.

Frankly, that is all you really need to read of Mr. Cohen’s piece to understand what he is on about. The short version is that rightwing leader, Glenn Beck, is spreading dangerous conspiracy theories that hurt the GOP and the nation. The problem, as always, is that the charges just aren’t true.

Taking them one by one from the cited paragraph, here is what Cohen asserts are the product of “the feverish mind of a conspiracy theorist”, and why his assertions are false:

(1) “the government wants to remotely control our thermostats”

I don’t know to which Beck comments Cohen is referring, but the fact is that the California government proposed exactly such a law:

Next year in California, state regulators are likely to have the emergency power to control individual thermostats, sending temperatures up or down through a radio-controlled device that will be required in new or substantially modified houses and buildings to manage electricity shortages.

The proposed rules are contained in a document circulated by the California Energy Commission, which for more than three decades has set state energy efficiency standards for home appliances, like water heaters, air conditioners and refrigerators. The changes would allow utilities to adjust customers’ preset temperatures when the price of electricity is soaring. Customers could override the utilities’ suggested temperatures. But in emergencies, the utilities could override customers’ wishes.

Clearly, it takes no “feverish mind” to grasp the fact that such programs are being considered.

(2) “the relaxing of the ban on stem cell research — as well as efforts to prevent global warming — is reminiscent of Nazism”

Well that does sound pretty bad. At least, until you track down what Beck actually said. In an interview with Professor Robert George of Princeton University, Beck rehashed why allowing progressive political interests to be in charge of steering “science” in the name of the public good was not necessarily desirable:

GLENN: I tell you, it’s so disturbing. I’m getting a lot of heat today because yesterday on television I talked about this and I said, you know, it was the progressives and the scientists that brought us eugenics. The idea that science — if evolution is true, then science should be able to help it along, and it was the guys in the white jackets. It was the scientists and the doctors that brought us the horrors of eugenics and it’s because —

PROFESSOR GEORGE: Glenn, can I fill you in a little bit? Because you are absolutely right. Let me tell you a little bit of the history. It’s fascinating. Those guys in white coats were not even during the Nazi period. These weren’t guys working for the Nazis. This was years before the Nazis during the Weimar Republic.

GLENN: It was here.

PROFESSOR GEORGE: When progressive, as they were then called, doctors and lawyers and others, decided that there were some lives unworthy of life. And two scholars, a guy named Bending and a guy named Hoka (ph) who were not Nazis who were opposed to the Nazi federy and so forth, they saw them as really sort of lower class thugs. But these two guys, a law professor and a medical professor, wrote a book called Lebens unwürdig von Leben, life unworthy of life which was a roadmap for taking the life destroying the lives of retarded people, people regarded as inferior because of their low intelligence or physical impairment or so forth. That was the roadmap. It was before the Nazis. You are 100% right.

GLENN: And a lot of this stuff, I mean, started here originally, did it not? Didn’t some of the original thinking —

PROFESSOR GEORGE: Well, it didn’t just begin in Germany. It’s certainly true that there was a strong eugenics here among the elite, among the progressive, the people who regarded themselves as the forward thinkers. Just the name, one figure from my own field of philosophy of law, Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great American jurist and philosopher and eventually Supreme Court justice who was with the program entirely of eugenics before the Nazis gave it a bad name. So it was here in America just as it was in Germany.

GLENN: So here’s what I’m afraid of and, you know, call me crazy, but whenever you unplug from ethics and you put science at the top and then you surround it with a bunch of progressive elitists, that usually doesn’t spell, you know, spell out anything that’s good.

With respect to the dangers of separating ethics and embryonic stem cell research, the conversation also included this tidbit:

GLENN: The guy who started embryonic stem cell research, I heard a quote from him yesterday, said if you haven’t — if this whole concept of research on embryos hasn’t given you pause, then you haven’t thought about it enough.

PROFESSOR GEORGE: Oh, yes, that’s Jamie Thompson you are quoting who was the first person to isolate human embryonic stem cells. He is a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin. And he said that in explaining why he had done path-breaking work, very important pioneering work to create alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells, pluripotent just means like embryonic stem cells, cells that are able to be manipulated to become any sort of cell tissue so they would be very useful in regenerative medicine if all things work out. But Thompson was explaining why he went down another path and created a technology for which he’s likely to win the Nobel Prize called induced pluripotent stem cells which can be created without using embryos or destroying embryos or killing embryos. So yes, even somebody like Thompson recognizes that there’s a huge ethical issue here. But President Obama’s just swept past it, just swept past it.

To be fair, whenever Nazism or fascism enters the fray, noses are sure to get bent out of shape and even clearly expressed thoughts will be missed. However, as easily surmised from the snippets of conversation above (much less the whole thing), it’s quite clear that Beck was not comparing stem cell research to Nazism, but instead warning against allowing progressive scientists to drive the debate without regard for the ethical issues. By referencing an historical consequence of blindly following such advice, Beck is simply making a useful comparison to illuminate his point. Nowhere does he compare stem cell research to Nazism.

(3) “the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be setting up concentration camps”

Of all the accusations leveled at Beck by Mr. Cohen, this is the most egregiously false. In my opinion, the charge would fairly support a suit for defamation against Cohen, even under the heightened “actual malice” standard set forth in New York Times, Co. v. Sullivan. Far from asserting that FEMA was setting up concentration camps, Beck actively and thoroughly debunked the conspiracy theory [HT: Allahpundit]:

How Cohen could make the assertion he did is simply bewildering. Even the barest amount of research would have shown how wrong he was. If nothing else, Cohen should immediately retract his claim and apologize to Beck.

(4) “the country is on the path to socialism or possibly fascism but definitely some “-ism” that should be avoided.”

After delving into pure libel, Cohen quickly steers into idiocy. The assertion here is that Beck’s opinion that the Obama administration policies are grounded in statist/collectivist ideology is a conspiracy theory. Missing from Cohen’s analysis is any mention of the last eight years of BusHitler! droning. Nor is there any explanation as to how an opinion regarding the underlying ideology of the President’s governing philosophy could be a conspiracy theory. Typical of liberals nowadays, Cohen simply likens any mention of similarities between Obama’s agenda and actual socialist/fascist/statist policies as fear-mongering worthy of no examination, and what’s wrong with socialism anyway? Apparently ignorance of recent events is not Cohen’s only forte, as he is also seemingly unaware of anything that has happened over the last century or so.

Regardless of how one might feel about Glenn Beck, and whether you agree with him or not, he is being unfairly smeared by Mr. Cohen. The sorts of attacks set forth above will only broaden in scope unless confronted, and they will be used to discredit any similar veins of thought no matter how tangential to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or any other strawman leader the left chooses to hang around the necks of those opposed to statist politics. Hit these rhetorical bullies in their lying collectivist mouths now, or face the unfortunate consequences of letting them drive the agenda and control the language of the debate.