Saturday, January 18, 2014
A recent Senate report confirms two key things about the deadly Islamic assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on September 11, 2012: First, the U.S. government failed to adequately protect the mission; second, the assault was perpetrated by Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic militants.
Not surprisingly, the report has not precipitated significant change in U.S. policy toward Islamic governments and organizations that threaten America. For such a change to occur, U.S. officials and the intellectuals who influence them need not only to recognize the facts about this attack and other such attacks; they need also to recognize the essential facts about the ideology motivating those who perpetrate such attacks—including those on 9/11.
One indication of the unwillingness of American political and intellectual leaders to confront the essential nature of the Islamic threat is their continued claims that the Benghazi attack was somehow a consequence of an American-made video that mocked Islam. The Senate report states that the attack was “opportunistic,” perhaps partly in response to “that day’s violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video.” The New York Times claims that “anger over the video had played a significant role in precipitating the Benghazi attack.”
But, as I argued in 2012, at most the video served as a convenient excuse for Muslims to attack the mission:
The pretext for this latest round of violence was the posting on the internet of a video critical of Mohammed. The actual reason for the violence is that Islamists are motivated by a barbaric ideology that demands obedience to a murderer’s creed, and they were looking for any excuse to assault Americans.
Why have American political and intellectual leaders been so eager to blame a video for the violence perpetrated by Islamic terrorists? Why did the Obama administration initially lie about the causes of the attack? And why do Al-Qaeda and related organizations—along with their state sponsors—continue to organize military forces around the world that threaten the United States?
The broad answer to these questions is that American leaders fail to recognize the actual nature of Islam and of those who genuinely embrace it. As Craig Biddle explains:
Many Muslims around the world aim seriously to “live” and die by Islamic law—and to force everyone else to do so too. This is the explicit goal of Muslims who take their religion seriously—because it is the central commandment of Islam: Muslims must submit to Allah, spread Islam, and, ultimately, make the whole world submit to Allah.
As to why many Americans fail to recognize these facts and thus fail to demand that our government recognize them, see Biddle’s article. That many Americans do fail to recognize the facts is evident in the frequent headlines about Islamic attacks on and threats against America and Americans—including the attack in Benghazi. May life-loving Americans seek to change that.
- On the Anniversary of 9/11, Relativism and Religion Still Paralyze American Self-Defense
- Islamists Celebrate 9/11 by Murdering More Americans; U.S. Embassy Demands “Respect” for Islam
- Benghazi Assault Was a Moral Atrocity, Not a “Sideshow”
- Why the Murders in Benghazi “Should Shock the Conscience of People of All Faiths”
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Foreign Policy and War
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia “struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules, which prohibited Internet providers from blocking or prioritizing Web traffic,” Brian Fung reports for the Washington Post.
Although the ruling created a furor among leftist activists, it is a victory for individual rights.
At issue is whether the owners of an Internet service provider—those who invested their wealth and efforts into creating the business—in fact own their own business. Rather than recognize the rights of business owners to control their own property and contract freely with others, advocates of “net neutrality” regulations call on government to dictate how the businesses may operate.
Fung unwittingly describes the objectionable nature of net neutrality regulations: “At stake here is an Internet provider’s ability to charge Web companies such as Netflix for better service, which public interest advocates say may harm consumers.” An Internet service provider’s ability to charge what it sees fit for services it chooses to offer is precisely what is at stake.
Note how, as Fung describes it, “better service . . . may harm consumers.” But Internet service providers have a right to offer premium services if they want, and customers have a right to contract with those who provide them on mutually agreed terms. Consumers who choose to pay more for better service obviously benefit from the arrangement.
More fundamentally, the standard for proper government action is not what alleged “public interest advocates” claim to be in the interests of consumers (as if they could determine those interests anyway). Rather, the proper standard is individual rights. Government should act to “protect” neither businesses nor consumers in a way that violates others’ rights; rather, it should act to protect the rights of all. Net neutrality regulations obviously violate this standard.
Although the court’s ruling apparently was too narrow to address the question of individual rights—in Fung’s words, the court “found that the network neutrality rules contradicted a previous FCC decision that put broadband companies beyond its regulatory reach”—at least the ruling does reject rights-violating regulations.
In his TOS article “Net Neutrality: Toward a Stupid Internet,” Raymond C. Niles provides a more detailed description of net neutrality regulations and a fuller critique of them. He concludes:
[N]et neutrality violates the rights of private property owners—specifically Internet service providers. The fact that Internet access is a profound value does not justify government force against the ISPs that make it possible, any more than the fact that books are a profound value justifies government involvement in Barnes and Noble’s pricing, displaying, and stocking of books. The property of Internet service providers is theirs; as such, they have the moral right to use and dispose of it as they please, regardless of what their customers, FCC bureaucrats, and net neutrality advocates have to say about it.
Unfortunately, net neutrality is a small part of a wider effort to erode property rights in America. As with eminent domain, zoning laws, and the like, net neutrality holds that it is moral to violate the rights of property owners for the “greater good.” Net neutrality holds that the benefit of a “neutral” Internet to all of its users justifies the use of force against those who own and maintain its backbone. It does not.
America morally must recognize the rights of Internet service providers to manage their property as they see fit. We must undo the relatively few controls already placed on the Internet, repudiate net neutrality, and keep the government’s stupid hands off this brilliant private property.
To protect the rights of Internet businesses and their customers, Americans must demand that government do away with so-called net neutrality regulations and instead recognize people’s rights to conduct business in this arena as they see fit.
- Net Neutrality: Toward a Stupid Internet
- Democrats Further Entrench Rights-Violating Net Neutrality Regulations
Posted in: Regulations
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Last month, Ohio state senator Capri Cafaro proposed heavy regulations on all homeschooling parents in the state when she introduced “Teddy’s Law,”
which would require parents or legal guardians seeking to remove children from public schools to go through background checks, have interviews conducted in their homes, and to allow their children to be interviewed separately in an effort to make sure the children are being protected from abuse.
The pretext for Cafaro’s bill was “to assure there [are] not new victims like Teddy.” “Teddy” refers to 14-year-old Theodore “Teddy” Foltz Tedesco, whose mother removed him from public school ostensibly to be homeschooled by her and her boyfriend, Zaryl G. Bush. Bush physically abused the boy for an extended period and ultimately beat him to death last January.
Although tragic beyond words, this murder does not justify government coercion against homeschooling parents who have done nothing wrong.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) called Teddy’s Law “breathtaking” in its intrusiveness. On December 19, after a flood of public opposition led by homeschooling parents, Cafaro withdrew the bill.
New Jersey legislator Loretta Weinberg introduced similar bills in 2003, 2011, and 2012 following tragic but isolated instances of child abuse by homeschooling parents, and the bills died in similar fashion—against a backdrop of vehement opposition from homeschooling parents. As HSLDA notes, these bills would have treated “every homeschool parent like a child abuser by requiring them to give their school system documentation of a medical exam every year for every homeschooled child.”
Weinberg’s legislation would also have imposed, for the first time in New Jersey, curriculum controls on homeschoolers, thus further violating parents’ rights to educate their children as they see fit. Weinberg’s law would have given the state, currently mostly free of regulations, “one of the worst homeschool laws in the nation,” says HSLDA.
Government should punish those who violate rights—as it did by sending Teddy’s mother and her boyfriend to prison—and protect the rights of the innocent. However, in the absence of specific evidence of child abuse, government has no right to interfere with parents’ choices regarding their children’s education.
The homeschooling parents in Ohio and New Jersey who defended their rights by defeating these regulations deserve our moral support.
Posted in: Education Policy
Monday, January 13, 2014
Eating at fast food restaurants causes weight gain, right? Didn’t Morgan Spurlock show this in his 2004 documentary Super Size Me, in which he ate only at McDonald’s for thirty days and gained twenty-five pounds as a result?
Not so fast.
As reported by KCCI News, high school science teacher John Cisna ate only at McDonald’s for ninety days yet managed to lose thirty-seven pounds. How is that possible? One might think he ate only salads, but no, he ate many different items from the menu—even Big Macs and ice cream sundaes. He was able to lose weight because he limited his total food intake to a reasonable 2,000 calories per day, and he walked for forty-five minutes per day for exercise. Not only did his weight go down, but his blood cholesterol level dropped from 249 to 170 as well.
Some writers claim that Cisna’s all-McDonald’s diet is unhealthy. Although Cisna and his students made an effort to make his diet nutritionally sound, that wasn’t his primary purpose. As Cisna explains, the point of the experiment was not to recommend eating only McDonald’s; “The point . . . is: Hey, it’s a choice. We all have choices. It’s our choices that make us fat. Not McDonald’s.”
Cisna has provided a dramatic demonstration of the fact that we guide our own fates by the choices we make. This is a truth that more Americans desperately need to grasp.
- Independent Thinking, Morality, and Liberty
- Hats Off to McDonald’s and Coca-Cola for Protesting Soda Ban
Posted in: Ethics
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Everyone knows that environmentalists seek (among other things) to shackle energy producers with government taxes and regulations. Less well known is that some energy consumers also seek to shackle energy producers with the aim of keeping energy prices low by forbidding them to sell energy to foreign buyers.
The energy news site Fuel Fix reports that “Dow Chemical and other major users of natural gas,” operating through a lobbying organization called America’s Energy Advantage, “are imploring the Obama administration to stop approving licenses to broadly export the fossil fuel.”
These corporations are calling on the government to require energy producers to prove that their sales are in “the public interest” in order to receive permission to trade. The premises here are that the so-called public interest trumps the property and liberty rights of Americans and that regulators can properly determine pricing or trade agreements. Both of these notions are false, and their acceptance is un-American and foolishly shortsighted.
This effort by Dow Chemical and its allies is un-American because it calls for the violation of the rights of some American producers for the alleged sake of other American producers. And it is foolishly shortsighted because of what it means for Dow and company in the future.
If the principle of rights is not to be the governing principle in production and trade—if, instead, serving the so-called public interest is the standard for permission—what will become of Dow’s ability to trade when someone alleges that its business dealings are not in the “public interest”? Suppose DuPont goes to federal regulators and claims that the fact that “68 percent of Dow’s revenues come from locations outside the United States” violates the “public interest” by keeping those products from Americans and by increasing the demand and therefore the prices?
Shame on Dow Chemical and its allies for advocating immoral and thus ultimately self-destructive policies.
American businessmen desperately need to realize that the only proper purpose of government is to protect rights, not to violate them, and that upholding this principle is in the best interest of all producers.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Regulations
Saturday, January 11, 2014
- He became George Washington’s most able and trusted aid during the Revolutionary War. Hamilton joined the war at age eighteen. Two years later, General Washington, having observed his competence and leadership skills, promoted him to aide-de-camp. Washington entrusted Hamilton to attend high-level meetings and to help draft letters to governors, generals, and Congress. Later Hamilton issued orders on behalf of Washington. At Yorktown he commanded an infantry, eluded enemy fire, captured soldiers, and helped force the British to surrender.
- Hamilton wrote most of the Federalist Papers, which ensured ratification of the Constitution. Before it was ratified, the Constitution faced tremendous opposition. Hamilton’s essays—part of a series of newspaper articles outlining how the republican form of government would function—demonstrated the advantages of a central government with built-in checks to prevent abuses of power.
- Hamilton served as first Treasury Secretary and stabilized the economy. When George Washington became president, the economy was in shambles. Hamilton spearheaded the establishment of a gold-based dollar, ensured that the war debt was paid, and stated that, in justice, the purchasers (instead of the original holders) of war bonds would be paid their current value. This demonstrated that the federal government respected property rights and the sanctity of contract. A group of merchants admired Hamilton so much that they paid for a fifteen-foot marble statue of him—a statue that stood on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange before it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1835.
- Hamilton helped shape Washington’s foreign policy based on American self-interest. In 1793, when England and France were once again at war, both nations demanded America’s support. Hamilton advised Washington on the Neutrality Proclamation, which declared that America would not become entangled in foreign affairs but would be friendly to both nations and impartial in their dispute. Hamilton advocated a paid military, founded the U.S. Coast Guard, and introduced a bill to establish West Point Military Academy.
- Hamilton opposed slavery. He grew up in the slave-based Caribbean and was disgusted with the brutality and rights violations he observed. He wanted slavery eradicated. Most people believe the abolition movement began in the 1830s, but in 1785 Hamilton formed the New York Manumission Society, an organization dedicated to abolishing slavery in New York and instrumental in doing so.
Happy birthday, Alexander Hamilton! We liberty-loving Americans will never forget your vital achievements.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: History
Friday, January 10, 2014
Human action, whether by individuals, groups, or governments, is driven by ideas—most substantially by the ideas people accept as morally correct.
- Why did Rosa Parks refuse to give up her bus seat to a white passenger?
- Why did Edward Snowden release classified NSA documents to the media?
- Why did Muslims hijack passenger jets and fly them into buildings full of Americans?
- Why did Congress pass ObamaCare into law?
The broad answer to such questions is that the individuals, groups, or governments did what they did because they regarded the actions as morally right.
People act (for the most part) on their moral convictions, whether explicit or implicit, pure or mixed; thus, if we want to understand why individuals, groups, and governments do what they do, we need to understand the key elements of the moral codes that motivate them. Toward that end, I’ve created a chart titled “Moral Theories at a Parallel Glance.”
The chart presents key aspects of four general moral codes at play in the world today: “supernatural” subjectivism (“God”-based, faith-based morality), social subjectivism (consensus-based morality), personal subjectivism (whim-based morality), and rational egoism (life-based, reason-based morality).
The purpose of the chart is not to present the arguments for and against these theories (that would require a book); rather, the purpose is to place the key principles of each theory in parallel on a single page, so that they can be easily compared and contrasted. The principles included for each are:
- the standard of truth and moral value (e.g., God’s will),
- the fundamental moral values (things people should revere, uphold, or pursue),
- the fundamental virtues (actions people should take),
- the code’s position on human sacrifice,
- its position on the use of physical force against people,
- its position on rights, and
- its implied social system.
Such a highly delimited chart is obviously no substitute for a deep and broad understanding of these issues. But it can be helpful in making sense of the actions taken by individuals, groups, and governments. And, of course, whereas the principles of these theories are here presented in pure, unmixed form, it is not only possible but also quite common for people to embrace a mixture of these ideas. This fact, however, simply highlights the value of isolating the theories by reference to their essentials, as one cannot understand mixed ideas unless one first understands the elements of the mixture.
I hope you find the chart useful. If you do, consider sharing it with your friends. The conversations it could inspire are precisely the kinds of conversations people need to engage in if we are to achieve a culture of reason and freedom.
- Ayn Rand: America’s Comeback Philosopher
- Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Philosophy
Thursday, January 9, 2014
It is not often that a United States senator goes to the floor of the Senate to take on an author whose major works were published decades ago. But that is what happened yesterday when majority whip Dick Durbin criticized Republicans for reading Ayn Rand’s work, the most famous of which, Atlas Shrugged, was published in 1957. What is it about Rand and her ideas that Durbin finds so threatening? In his words:
I say to my conservative friends, put down those Ayn Rand books for a minute and take a look at the real world. If we can’t stand behind those who are struggling in life, who are we; what are we? Helping to reduce poverty in America will help us all. Work with us to help America. Please start off by extending unemployment insurance.
Regarding the problems with rights-violating government unemployment “insurance,” see my article from yesterday. Regarding Durbin’s broader attack on Rand, what, specifically, does he oppose in Rand’s ideas? He does not say, but the answer is obvious enough.
Rand demonstrated that each individual has a moral right to live for his own sake and by his own judgment—which means (among other things) that he may spend his money as he judges best and trade freely with others—and that the proper purpose of government is to protect each individual’s right to do so.
In Durbin’s version of the “real world,” there are no rights; government may use force as it sees fit. If government wishes to forcibly seize your wealth to help “those who are struggling in life” (or anyone else), it may do so.
As they make obvious every day, neither today’s leading Democrats nor Republicans have any substantial understanding of rights, much less any commitment to them. The problem with today’s Republicans is not that they can’t put down Rand’s books; rather, the problem is that, although some Republicans have read Rand’s books, few have mustered the courage to embrace the fundamental ideas in Rand’s works—for instance, the principle that that reason is man’s only means of knowledge (meaning faith is invalid), and the principle that rational self-interest is moral (meaning self-sacrifice is not). These are the kinds of fundamental ideas in Rand’s philosophy that give rise to and support her defense of freedom and capitalism.
To establish a government that consistently protects the rights of each individual, what Democrats and Republicans alike need is not only to pick up Rand’s books, but to read them, understand them, recognize the fundamental truths in them, and put those truths into political practice.
- Ayn Rand: America’s Comeback Philosopher
- Government Unemployment “Insurance” Isn’t Insurance; It’s Force
Image: John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Despite Barack Obama’s blather to the contrary, government payments to the unemployed are not “insurance.”
Real insurance is a financial instrument voluntarily sold and purchased on a free market for the purpose of spreading risks, with the benefits defined by contract. For example, we know that some people’s houses will burn down, but we don’t know whose; therefore, most of us who own houses purchase home insurance that covers (among other things) destruction by fire.
Although government unemployment welfare has substantially throttled the need for and value of private insurance, some private insurance is still available. For example, people can purchase unemployment insurance to supplement government payments; consumers may purchase credit insurance to cover payments on debts during times of unemployment; and people may purchase private disability insurance to cover unemployment (my wife has this sort of insurance). Some people choose to protect themselves from the costs of unemployment simply by saving money ahead of time. In a market free from government force, insurance companies and other businesses would offer many additional options.
Government payments to the unemployed are not insurance. The so-called customers do not willingly pay for it; rather, government takes the money by force. Most government unemployment funds are confiscated from business owners—a violation of their rights (which makes it harder for business owners to hire people or increase wages).
As the Library of Economics and Liberty points out, “The federal government makes grants to the states for the administration of the unemployment insurance program.” CBS reports that Obama’s new plan carries a “$6.5 billion price tag.” Where does this money come from? Again, government forcibly takes it from producers, in violation of their rights.
As Obama’s push to expand government unemployment payments makes clear, such payments are not defined by contract, as are the benefits of real insurance. In the case of government unemployment payments, there is no contract. There is a gun and a governmental decree.
Obama is right about one thing: Many people who are now unemployed lost their jobs through no fault of their own. What Obama will not admit is that they lost their jobs mostly because of the reckless and rights-violating policies of the Federal Reserve and of profligate politicians, whose policies fundamentally caused the mortgage meltdown.
Although the elementary-school lesson appears to be lost on most of today’s politicians, two wrongs do not make a right. The fact that government caused high unemployment by violating people’s rights does not mean government should pay the unemployed by further violating people’s rights.
Rather, Americans should demand that government get out of the “business” of violating people’s rights, so that people can produce and contract freely—as their lives and prosperity require.
- Review: The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure, by John Allison
- Obama, Unsurprisingly, Gets Ayn Rand Wrong
Image: Austen Hufford
Posted in: Welfare and Subsidies
Monday, January 6, 2014
New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, did not wait to assume his office before brandishing the big stick of government force. Two days before becoming mayor, de Blasio threatened to outlaw horse-drawn carriages in Central Park. For half a century, these carriages have attracted New Yorkers and visitors wishing to enjoy the marvels of the bustling Empire City from a charming, pastoral perspective.
To them—and to those whose livelihoods depend on the horse-drawn carriages—the mayor-elect had a message:
“We are going to get rid of the horse carriages. Period,” de Blasio, who [took] office New Year’s Day, said at a news conference. . . . “They are not humane, they are not appropriate for the year 2014. It’s over. So, just watch us do it.”
The pretext for the ban is that using horses in this manner abuses them, as they must breathe exhaust fumes and risk being struck by automobiles. But this is nonsense. First, horses don’t have rights; their owners do. Second, the horses are exposed to no more risks than are the carriage drivers and passengers (or for that matter, pedestrians in Manhattan).
For years, New Yorkers have been burdened by the capricious applications of government force by former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who (among other things) banned smoking and trans-fats and sought to forcibly reduce salt consumption, to limit the size of soft drinks, and even to force builders to reduce the functionality of their elevators to promote stair use.
Mayor de Blasio’s out-of-the-gate assault on those who drive and enjoy horse-drawn carriages in New York City is an ominous sign that the rights-violating trend will continue.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Regulations
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