Published on 22 Apr 2014
“I think the Founders weren’t wary enough of democracy,” says David Harsanyi, senior editor at The Federalist and a nationally syndicated columnist. “I think there are bigger problems with it.”
Harsanyi sat down with Reason TV‘s Nick Gillespie to discuss his new book, The People Have Spoken and They Are Wrong: The Case Against Democracy, why we put too much weight on voting, and why praising democracy is just celebrating mob rule.
“Democracy’s just a process that reflects the morals and ethics of the people who vote,” he said. “It doesn’t guarantee you freedom — just check out the Gaza Strip or Egypt or anywhere else.”
April 24, 2014
Tim Cavanaugh explains that your jaundiced view of the Internal Revenue Service is clearly contradicted by the IRS’s approach to helping people with tax troubles:
Sometimes it seems like you only hear the bad news about the Internal Revenue Service: the targeting of the president’s enemies; the padding of union bosses’ hours.
But sometimes the federal tax collector is there to lend a hand.
During 26 of the darkest months of the post-recession, 1,100 persons in the United States had “substantiated Federal tax compliance problems.”
Yet during that same time period, from October 2010 through December 2012, the IRS showed mercy, even charity. It gave those 1,100 people more than $1 million in cash awards, as well as other considerations of value.
The other considerations included 69 workplace promotions and 10,000 hours worth of what California public employees call “air time.”
That is to say: All of those 1,100 were IRS employees.
Mr Wheeler replied, “There is certainly no shortage of guns and corruption in Central America. If you have the means to smuggle a ton of cocaine, you can probably smuggle a ton of guns, too. But this was easier… the Justice Department and the ATF made the contacts and set up the networks, told the gun shops to cooperate, so all the Mexicans had to do was send in a straw buyer, make the purchase, and move the weapons south of the border.”
I said, “These people aren’t very smart… there are something like 300 million guns in America, and they have a robust shelf life. Even if all gun manufacturing stopped tomorrow, there would still be an abundance of guns in America for decades. The only way to disarm Americans is mass confiscation, and I feel pretty certain that would spark a civil war. I know several gun owners that would rather fight than give up their guns.”
Mr. Wheeler said, “Oh, I know dozens… perhaps hundreds that feel the same way. I really don’t think confiscation is something you need to worry about, because it will never work. There are simply too many of them, and too many people have guns that there is no record of. A confiscation program would only piss off the most dangerous people in America… the people who would shoot back. You are correct, a mass confiscation would provoke a civil war.”
I said, “Well, you are a military man… what would that look like?”
Wheeler said, “Well, it wouldn’t look like the first Civil War… no lines of men standing in ranks and shooting across a field at each other, no “North and South” or sharply defined state lines for friendly and enemy territories, at least, not in the beginning. No, it would look more like Iraq or Afghanistan, with house to house fighting, IED’s, snipers, small factions and independent militias operating on their own, refugees streaming away from battle zones in all directions…”
“But the first question to ask is who would the combatants be? I mean, the Army isn’t going to just roll out onto the street in tanks on day one, so my guess is that it would start out as a police action, with Federal agencies like ATF and FBI taking the lead, supported by local law enforcement. But once people start shooting back, they would have to ratchet things up, do things like institute curfews and roadblocks, and they would eventually try to press the various state Guard units into service. That’s where it all goes squirrelly, because both local law enforcement and the Guard will be riddled with people who support gun rights, regardless of what laws the politicians pass, and they won’t be crazy about having to police, and maybe even fight against, their own people. The Governors may well object to the state Guard units being activated and may not wish to cooperate…”
“And it is not clear to me how many LEO and Guardsmen would remain loyal to the government and how many would join the “rebellion”. My guess is that both sides would be riddled with defections, informants, and spies. But what if, say, the Gulf states like Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida secede, and they take control of all military bases and equipment, and you suddenly have gone from an insurgency with rifles to a breakaway nation, or maybe several breakaway nations, armed with fighter jets, drones, tanks, and a navy? Whoo, buddy… now all bets are off… kiss posse comitatus goodbye. This would be the ugliest thing this county has ever seen…”
I asked him several “what if” questions and let him riff on them… I just let him talk and wargame out the Second Civil War, there in the back seat of my car as we drove to the airport, and he painted a picture of horrific death and destruction. Once this conflict started, even the best-case scenarios he described sounded truly grim. He seemed to believe that civilian casualties would be extremely high, given how much fighting would centered in and around large cities, and that food would be used as a weapon, causing famine and starvation on a terrifying scale. Booby traps, IED’s, rampant bombings, drone strikes, snipers, local-level assassinations, mortars and shelling, death squads (both government and rebel), reprisal killings, torture… it sounded more like the Middle East than middle America.
Wheeler got quiet for a few moments, and then he said something that I will never, ever forget.
“These people are playing with matches… I don’t think they understand the scope and scale of the wildfire they are flirting with. They are fucking around with a civil war that could last a decade and cause millions of deaths… and the sad truth is that 95% of the problems we have in this country could be solved tomorrow, by noon… simply by dragging 100 people out in the street and shooting them in the fucking head.”
April 23, 2014
Amy Otto on the attempt to sue McDonald’s because they were handing out “gendered” toys with their Happy Meals:
A recent article in Slate by Antonia Ayres-Brown, a junior in high school, details the valiant feminist struggle she ultimately brought to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against McDonald’s for … discriminating on the basis of sex in the distribution of Happy Meal toys. “Despite our evidence showing that, in our test, McDonald’s employees described the toys in gendered terms more than 79 percent of the time, the commission dismissed our allegations as ‘absurd’ and solely for the purposes of ‘titilation [sic] and sociological experimentation,’” she wrote.
Let’s leave aside the fact that Connecticut has a Commission on Human Rights and note that this girl sincerely believes McDonald’s offering toys described, at times, as being for a girl or for a boy is a human rights violation.
While I admire the girl’s plucky disposition and effort, I do hope one day she learns to channel her energy into productive uses that will advance her cause in positive ways. This could have all been solved by her parents simply encouraging her to ask for the toy she wants. If girls are continually taught that they as individuals have no power to negotiate a situation as simple as “I’d like that toy” without the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights getting involved, I submit that these women are proving the case that they should not be put in positions of leadership or power.
By the author’s own admission,“McDonald’s is estimated to sell more than 1 billion Happy Meals each year.” Yet it does not occur to her that the fast food worker giving a “girl’s” toy to a girl is simply trying to give the customer what she wants in the most expeditious manner possible. This is a company that sells a billion of these things a year and gets them in the hands of their customers as fast as possible.
People do not eat at McDonald’s to get into a gender studies discussion with the teenage kid at the register; they go there to get food fast, hence the term “fast food.” If the author had worked in fast food for any nominal period of time, she might realize that the employee’s main motivation is not to spend any time persecuting women but to make it through his or her shift as painlessly as possible.
In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf says that a new court ruling may actually force President Obama to disclose the secret law under which he ordered the killing of at least one American citizen:
The Obama Administration has fought for years to hide its legal rationale for killing an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, after putting him on a secret kill list. Citizens have an interest in knowing whether the White House follows the law, especially when the stakes are as high as ending a life without due process. President Obama has fought to ensure his legal reasoning would never be revealed, a precedent that would help future presidents to kill without accountability.
His shortsightedness is breathtaking.
Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon expressed frustration that, according to her legal analysis, the Freedom of Information Act couldn’t force a disclosure. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws,” she wrote, “while keeping the reasons for their conclusions a secret.”
Americans ought to have been alarmed that, according to a federal judge, we’re living in an “Alice in Wonderland” reality where leaders use the law to put themselves beyond the law. But no one paid much attention as The New York Times and the ACLU appealed the decision. On Monday, they won an important victory:
A federal appeals panel in Manhattan ordered the release… of key portions of a classified Justice Department memorandum that provided the legal justification for the targeted killing of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who intelligence officials contend had joined Al Qaeda and died in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
The unanimous three-judge panel, reversing a lower court decision, said the government had waived its right to keep the analysis secret in light of numerous public statements by administration officials and the Justice Department’s release of a “white paper” offering a detailed analysis of why targeted killings were legal.
An interesting article in the New Yorker by Jelani Cobb discusses some of the aspects of the struggle to desegregate American schools that I hadn’t heard of:
The architects of Jim Crow were fixated by notions of white racial purity, but black people subjected to that dictatorship of pigment were concerned with a different question: In a hostile society, is it better to be isolated from those who view you with contempt or in close proximity to them? In retrospect, it is easy to see segregation as a moral evil unanimously despised by black people, but even its fiercest critics betrayed ambivalence about what its end would mean. In the thirties, W. E. B. Du Bois inspired rancorous debates within the N.A.A.C.P. by arguing, in his writing, that there were important economic benefits — the built-in market for black businesses, for instance — that came with segregation. James Nabrit, Jr., an attorney who handled a school-desegregation suit in Washington, D.C., that became one of the cases grouped with Brown, went on to become president of Howard University, a job that entailed the seemingly paradoxical task of preserving and furthering an all-black educational institution. Three of the other attorneys who worked on Brown, including Thurgood Marshall, had, in fact, met as students at Howard’s law school, and they began their desegregation work under the tutelage of Charles Hamilton Houston, the school’s dean. Black teachers in South Carolina, where another of the desegregation suits had been filed, worried, with some cause, that integration would end a state of affairs in which black children, though deprived of equal resources, at least benefitted from teachers who did not calibrate their expectations according to the color of their students’ skin.
The Supreme Court decision on Brown, in 1954, marked a moral high point in American history, but the practice that it dispatched to the graveyard had already begun to mutate into something less tangible and far more durable. What would, in the end, preserve the principle of “separate inequality” was not protests like the one staged by Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas, who deployed the National Guard to Little Rock’s Central High School, in 1957, in order to keep black students out. Instead, it was policies like the Interstate Highway Act, whose passage one year earlier helped spawn American suburbia. In the wake of Brown, private schools, whose implicit mission was to educate white children, cropped up throughout the South. The persistent legacies of redlining, housing discrimination, and wage disparity conspired to produce segregation without Jim Crow — maintaining all the familiar elements of the past in an updated operating system.
To the extent that the word “desegregation” remains in our vocabulary, it describes an antique principle, not a current priority. Today, we are more likely to talk of diversity — but diversification and desegregation are not the same undertaking. To speak of diversity, in light of this country’s history of racial recidivism, is to focus on bringing ethnic variety to largely white institutions, rather than dismantling the structures that made them so white to begin with.
And so, sixty years after Brown, it is clear that the notion of segregation as a discrete phenomenon, an evil that could be flipped, like a switch, from on to off, by judicial edict, was deeply naïve. The intervening decades have shown, in large measure, the limits of what political efforts directed at desegregation alone could achieve, and the crumbling of both elements of “separate but equal” has left us at an ambivalent juncture. To the extent that desegregation becomes, once again, a pressing concern — and even that may be too grand a hope — it will have to involve the tax code, the minimum wage, and other efforts to redress income inequality. For the tragedy of this moment is not that black students still go to overwhelmingly black schools, long after segregation was banished by law, but that they do so for so many of the same reasons as in the days before Brown.
H/T to ESR for the link.
April 22, 2014
Ezra Levant isn’t impressed with President Obama’s choice for ambassador:
Barack Obama waited nine months before replacing the last U.S. ambassador to Canada. The post was empty, and Obama just didn’t care.
He doesn’t much like Stephen Harper – compare Obama’s icy body language towards Harper, to Obama’s deep bow when he met the Saudi king, or his high fives with the Hugo Chavez, the late ruler of Venezuela.
Don’t feel singled out. That’s how Obama treats many of America’s traditional allies. He spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. The White House’s bust of Winston Churchill was returned to the United Kingdom when Obama became president.
Get used to it. Obama treats his friends worse than his enemies.
You’d think a $600-billion-a-year trade relationship between Canada and the U.S. would warrant sending a new ambassador quickly. Apparently not.
When Ottawa was finally blessed with Obama’s choice this month, it was yet another Chicago crony capitalist – Bruce Heyman, a former Goldman Sachs banker who, together with his socialite wife, bundled $1.7 million for Obama’s election campaign.
That’s what Obama thinks of the diplomatic corps: a reward for personal service, and an incentive to future donors.
April 21, 2014
Doug Bandow argues that President Obama should worry more about re-assuring Americans rather than the “international community”:
The United States is busy in the world, with the Secretaries of Defense and State always on the international move. No function seems more important to Washington than acting as the world’s universal comforter, constantly “reassuring” friends and allies no matter where located.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea created a flood of European anxieties that America attempted to relieve. For instance, in early March the administration undertook what Secretary of State John Kerry termed “concrete steps to reassure our NATO allies.” The Military Times reported that Washington dispatched aircraft “to reassure NATO partners that border Russia.” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer urged the administration to set as a top objective to “reassure NATO.”
Reassuring other nations — whether their leaders or peoples—is rarely a worthwhile objective for the U.S. government. In contrast, America should behave in ways that are naturally reassuring. For instance, it should be apparent from its actions that the United States does not intend to launch wars of conquest, seize other countries’ resources for profit, oust other governments’ leaders for convenience, or compel other societies’ compliance with America’s cultural, economic, political, or social preferences. Washington’s actions also should demonstrate that it is committed to shared liberty and prosperity with other nations and peoples in the great global commons. The U.S. should act to promote an international order rooted in the understanding that political institutions exist to serve human beings, not vice versa.
The notion of America having an obligation to constantly “reassure” others is particularly pernicious when applied to the military. Washington’s principal obligation is to protect the American people, not those who desire to be defended by the world’s greatest military power. Unfortunately, sometimes the latter seems include most everyone else on earth. When I visited North Korea two decades ago one official suggested that our two nations should cooperate against Japan, which Pyongyang reviled even more than the U.S.!
There are occasions when it is in America’s interest to defend other states, but only rarely. Today Washington collects allies like most people accumulate Facebook friends. The more the merrier, even when they are security black holes.
Unfortunately, almost all U.S. allies expect to be defended by America rather than to help defend America. Some contribute small troop contingents to Washington’s unnecessary wars elsewhere, such as in Iraq, but only after the U.S. helps fund and equip those forces. Alas, gaining marginal assistance from, say, Georgia in return for promising to face down nuclear-armed Russia on Tbilisi’s behalf would be a poor bargain indeed.
One of the worst consequences of America’s Asian and European alliances is discouraging prosperous and populous states from defending themselves. Europe has eight times Russia’s GDP — why is it relying on America at all? And why isn’t it moving forces into Eastern Europe if the continent’s security is at risk?
April 20, 2014
Robert Farley examines the claim that the US Navy has 10 aircraft carriers:
Last week the U.S. Navy accepted USS America, first of the America-class amphibious assault ships, into service. Unlike most recent amphibious assault ships, USS America and her sister USS Tripoli lack well-decks, instead focusing on aviation facilities. When fully operational, America and Tripoli will operate as many as 20 F-35Bs, potentially playing a critical role in what the Navy projects as the future of air superiority.
Inevitably, the delivery of USS America rekindles the ongoing conversation over what, precisely, constitutes an aircraft carrier. In the United States, we endure the polite fiction that the USN’s 45,000 ton aircraft carriers are not aircraft carriers, but rather some other kind of creature. USS America is roughly the same size as the French Charles De Gaulle and the INS Vikramaditya, although a bit smaller than the RFS Admiral Kuzetsov or her Chinese sister, the Liaoning. America is considerably larger than recent aircraft-carrying ships constructed for the Korean, Japanese, and Australian navies.
As an educator, I can attest to some frustration in relating to students that the United States operates ten aircraft carriers, plus another nine ships that we would refer to as aircraft carriers if they served in any other navy. And while I appreciate the desire of analysts to differently categorize the capabilities of Wasp and Nimitz-class carriers, I wish that people had a firmer grasp on the abject silliness of claiming that a 45,000 ton flat-decked aircraft-carrying warship is not, in fact, an aircraft carrier. Think of the children.
Wikimedia offers this visual aid to understanding the relative sizes and carrying capacity of aircraft carriers from the US Navy and other navies:
April 19, 2014
I was busy with away-from-the-computer stuff yesterday, so I didn’t see this post until today:
Less than 19 weeks after the U.S. Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the American military struck back. On April 18, 1942 – 72 years ago today – sixteen Army Air Force bombers launched from a Navy aircraft carrier to attack the enemy’s homeland.
Led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, the raid was launched from USS Hornet, commanded by Capt. Marc Mitscher and escorted by ships under the command of Vice Adm. “Bull” Halsey aboard his flagship, USS Enterprise.
The extraordinary joint Doolittle Raid showed Imperial Japan’s military leaders their vulnerability and America’s resolve.
The raid also demonstrated innovation, courage and resilience.
The five-man B-25 crews trained relentlessly prior to their mission, with specialized training led by Navy flight instructor Lt. Henry F. Miller. The Army Air Force made ingenious modifications so the bombers could have extra fuel but less weight.
Pilots, all volunteers, needed to be extremely fearless, taking off in their huge planes from a short flight deck. On rough seas they launched in bitter cold, 75-knot winds and foam-flecked spray, as Sailors aboard recalled.
Doolittle, as his team’s leader, took off first. His success inspired the other pilots just as their entire mission would inspire the nation – putting action to the nationwide words of resolve heard throughout the world: “Remember Pearl Harbor!”
Seven Doolittle Raiders were killed in the mission: Two drowned and a third was killed by the fall after bailing out; eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of the eight POWs were executed Oct. 15, 1942, and another died of malnutrition Dec. 1, 1943. The surviving four POWs were released in August 1945.
The Raiders who landed in China were assisted by American missionary Rev. John M. Birch, whose contacts within Japanese-occupied China helped the Raiders to escape. Afterward, Birch was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Force, continuing his work as a missionary while gathering intelligence on the Japanese. He was killed Aug. 25, 1945, at the age of 27, during a confrontation with Chinese Communists. The John Birch Society honors Birch, a recipient of both the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal.
Even though the Doolittle Raiders bombed Tokyo, it was the Chinese who suffered the most from the raid. Furious the Chinese nationalists were protecting the Americans, the Japanese retaliated against several coastal cities suspected of harboring the Americans, killing an estimated 250,000 Chinese citizens.
Doolittle was so convinced his mission had been a failure, he was convinced he would face a court-martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, he was promoted to general, skipping the rank of colonel. He and all of his Raiders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Mitscher served in a variety of command leadership positions for the rest of World War II, earning the rank of admiral and title as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
April 17, 2014
I haven’t been following the situation in Nevada between the armed forces of the Bureau of Land Management and the armed citizenry in support of rancher Cliven Bundy, but while my sympathies normally go toward the individual rather than the state, this case doesn’t appear to be clear-cut (and Bundy is clearly in violation of the law to some degree). Kevin Williamson seems to be in the same general state of mind:
Deserts always feel like my natural habitat, and I am very fond of them. That being said, I have, for my sins, spent a fair amount of time in Clark County, Nev., and it is not the loveliest stretch of desert in these United States, or even in the top twelve. Protecting the pristine beauty of the sun-baked and dust-caked outskirts of Las Vegas and its charismatic fauna from grazing cattle — which the Bureau of Land Management seems to regard as an Old Testament plague — seems to me to be something less than a critical national priority. At the same time, the federal government’s fundamental responsibility, which is defending the physical security of the country, is handled with remarkable nonchalance: Millions upon millions upon millions of people have crossed our borders illegally and continue to reside within them. Cliven Bundy’s cattle are treated as trespassers, and federal agents have been dispatched to rectify that trespass; at the same time, millions of illegal aliens present within our borders are treated as an inevitability that must be accommodated. In practice, our national borders are a joke, but the borders of that arid haven upon which ambles the merry Mojave desert tortoise are sacrosanct.
The relevant facts are these: 1) Very powerful political interests in Washington insist upon the scrupulous enforcement of environmental laws, and if that diminishes the interests of private property owners, so much the better, in their view. 2) Very powerful political interests in Washington do not wish to see the scrupulous enforcement of immigration laws, and if that undercuts the bottom end of the labor market or boosts Democrats’ long-term chances in Texas, so much the better, in their view.
This isn’t the rule of law. This is the rule of narrow, parochial, self-interested political factions masquerading as the rule of law.
If we are to have the rule of law, then, by all means, let’s have the rule of law: Shut down those federal subsidies and IRS penalties in states that did not create their own exchanges under the Affordable Care Act — the law plainly does not empower the federal government to treat federal exchanges identically to state exchanges. And let’s enforce the ACA’s deadlines with the same scrupulosity with which the IRS enforces its deadlines. Let’s see Lois Lerner and a few hundred IRS employees thrown in the hole for their misappropriation of federal resources, lying to Congress, etc. — and let’s at least look into prosecuting some elected Democrats for suborning those actions. And if you want to get to the real problem with illegal immigration, let’s frog-march a few CEOs, restaurateurs, and small-time contractors off to prison for violating our immigration laws — and they can carry a GM product-safety manager and a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration executive under each arm. Let’s talk about enumerated powers.
H/T to Jon, my former virtual landlord, for the link.
April 15, 2014
Chris Kluwe is deputized to answer reader letters for Deadspin. It actually has some football-related stuff, in addition to an answer for this query from Ethan:
How many people that are not the president, do you think have had sex in the Oval Office?
Has to be at least in the thousands. Think of all the Congressmen working after hours, diligently crafting pork with the help of nubile young interns who’re easily impressed by wrinkly, dead Cryptkeeper flesh and the ephemeral promise of power. One thing leads to another, he says he knows a guy on the Secret Service who can get them into the Oval Office as long as they’re quiet, and boom — now he’s desperately trying to remember where he left the Viagra while she tries to convince herself this will totally launch her career. I bet the Secret Service guys even have a name for it, like the Clinton, or the Kennedy.
“Hey Chip, looks like ‘ol Strom Thurmond’s pulling another Jefferson tonight. Make sure his walker’s outside the door in about three minutes.”
“Greeeaat, I’ll let the cleaning staff know it’s gonna be another late one.”
Militarization of the police, pervasive surveillance, incarceration rates, and other police state trappings
An email from Rupert included a link to this infographic illustrating the “progress” of the United States toward a police state:
It’s easy to poke fun at people who worry about the ever-growing state involvement in everyday life … well, it used to be fun until the NSA’s incredible list of surveillance programs became known. Now, paranoia is the rational state for anyone concerned with their privacy and freedom of speech. We had Godwin’s Law, which provided a useful rule of thumb for when internet arguments had passed the point of no return. This is a rare example of an argument that meets the condition of Godwin’s Law (in the infographic), yet still remains relevant.
For some reason, the following report at the Tax Foundation website does not have any images to accompany the story:
In filing one’s taxes, it may be necessary to distinguish between breast implants that are merely “large,” and breast implants that are “extraordinarily large.”
The relevant ruling on this subject came in 1994 in a case known as Hess v. Commissioner. The plaintiff, a self-employed exotic dancer, had implants that expanded her bust size to the size 56FF. For tax purposes, she treated these as a deductible business expense on her schedule C. The IRS contested her deduction.
The relevant issue in Hess was whether breast implants – traditionally thought of as a luxury good bought for personal benefit – could be considered a legitimate business expense. Given that the plaintiff was an exotic dancer, she had a fair argument. But in general, taxpayers aren’t allowed to treat personal appearance expenditures as business expenses unless they aren’t suitable for personal use. Hess, arguing pro se, convincingly established that her implants were inconvenient in everyday life due to the sheer enormity of her breasts. The courts ruled in her favor:
Because petitioner’s implants were so extraordinarily large, we find that they were useful only in her business. Accordingly, we hold that the cost of petitioner’s implant surgery is depreciable.
H/T to Walter Olson, who assures us that this inquiry is strictly business.