When Republican Sen. Arlen Specter defected to the Democratic Party, the ongoing narrative that the GOP is now “too conservative” to win elections was escalated and amplified. But nothing could be more untrue.
Hats off to Larry, he broke your heart
Just like you broke mine when you said we must part
He told you lies now it’s your turn to cry cry cry
Now that Larry said goodbye to you
Arlen Specter is a detestable swine. Next to Teddy Kennedy, he, for me, is the most loathsome creature ever to lurk in the Capitol in my lifetime. Even so, at this moment, I feel so grateful to him, I could kiss him. These two seemingly contradictory sentiments require a little explanation.
First, as to his swinery. Where can one begin? Arlen first rocketed to public consciousness working for the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of JFK. He was in fact the inventor of the “magic bullet” theory, whereby a single bullet ricocheted all through John Connolly’s insides, shot out, and killed Kennedy (leading my father to opine that it must have been a CIA plot to snuff the Governor of Texas, carried out with as much aplomb as their hits on Castro). Now, I am not a Kennedy Conspiracy fan by any means, having been inoculated by conversations with General Edwin Walker, a fellow NMMI alum who had been shot at by Oswald earlier in “63. Whatever one was speaking to the General about, the conversation always ended in his theories about the murder”which having shared an assassin with the President, he was perhaps entitled to. But it is a murky business, and it started Specter’s career.
Said career has been one of that most annoying of party insects, the pro-Abortion Republican. Throughout his time in the Senate”into which soon-to-be-Al Franken-haunted body he entered in 1980″he showed his contempt for what “conservatives” consider their core ideals. This was most notably shown in his joining the pack of hounds harrying Judge Bork during the latter’s 1987 Confirmation hearings”which hearings nailed the coffin in the idea of “Original Intent.”
Down through the years, he has managed to continually live down to my expectations. Most obnoxious to me personally was his behavior during the Confirmation hearings of Mr. Chief Justice Roberts in 2005, when Specter, then head of the Judiciary Committee, demanded that Roberts promise that his religion would never affect his conduct in office; like a good Uncle Pat, Roberts piously promised, invoking the specter of JFK. A true Catholic would have turned the tables, perhaps asking Specter if he would keep his religion out of his political work. This would have been suicide, of course.
At any rate Diane Feinstein, an apostate Catholic herself, returned to the same attack”in vain, of course, because the future Chief Justice had the same facility for cowardice boasted by so many Catholics in public life. At any rate, one must ask”if Arlen’s views were so opposed to those of the Republican party, what was he doing chairing the Judiciary Committee in the first place? Before that, however, we need to know why he was in the Senate at all by that time.
The 2004 Pennsylvania primary saw Arlen challenged by Congressman Pat Toomey, a solidly pro-life, fiscal conservative. He had more money in his war-chest than either Specter or Hoeffel, the Democratic candidate. Toomey was in fact on his way to victory. But the Republican establishment, spearheaded by then-Senator Rick Santorum (who paid for this with his own handy defeat two years later) and President Bush weighed in for Specter, winning him the primary.
Once re-ensconced in his Senatorial throne, Arlen pontificated about the horrors of nominating Supreme Court Justices who might overturn Roe v. Wade. Since he was a leading candidate to replace Orrin Hatch, outgoing chairman of the Judiciary Committee, this provoked a storm of outrage on the part of the Republican base, that even President Bush was forced to heed. A grassroots movement arose to put the next ranking Republican on the Committee, John Kyl (who boasts a 0% rating from NARAL), into the chair. Of course, Kyl was such a strict constructionist that he collaborated with La Feinstein on rights of the accused matters (one wonders if she will continue this tack under our new masters). At any rate, in return for a mealy-mouthed promise that he would not oppose the administration’s judicial choices, Bush backed Specter for the chair, and in he went. So it was he was able to make his nasty demand of Roberts the following year. Of course, as with all the other Republican Chairs, he was out of a job in 2006.
Arlen Specter is indeed, a swine. But now I”ll explain my current enthusiasm for him.
This week, airily saying that he would not have his record “judged by the Republican primary electorate of Pennsylvania,” Specter switched parties. Apart from the refreshing frankness with which he dismissed the voters who nurtured him, he outraged the RNC chairman, Michael Steele. This worthy whined that Arlen had not even consulted him! Oh, my!
Bravo, Arlen, I say, well done! You have paid the Republican establishment back very well for all the favors they have lavished on you, to the detriment of their supporters. The most charitable thing I can say about the party hacks and apparatchiks who fostered you is that they were useful idiots. Oh, how they deserve the treatment you have given them! After all, they have no more care for their constituents than ever you did for yours. One supposes that Mr. Bush, surely our American Kerensky, will keep a noble silence in his Crawford retreat; but do not let the storm of opprobrium from the Republican establishment that will engulf you deflect you! You are true to your self as they are to theirs! There is no doubt that you will be happy working for your new masters, who are, after all, not so different from your old. They will doubtless reward you well. When, at last, you finish your career by being appointed Whoremaster-General or some such, I hope I can be the first to congratulate you.
Ross Douthat worries that Republicans might not be socialist enough.
With its decision in Nordyke v. King last week, in which the recent Supreme Court Heller decision was applied to state law, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took another step down the long road of “incorporating” the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. In doing so, it continued down the path toward completely inverting the model of government to which The People agreed when they ratified the Constitution.
The Preamble to the Bill of Rights says, in part, “The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added… RESOLVED … that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States ….” (Are you surprised that you have never read this before? That it is not usually included in printed versions of the Constitution? What accounts for that omission, do you think?)
Unsurprisingly, then, the First Amendment begins by saying, “Congress shall make no law.” Why? Because, as stated in its Preamble, the purpose of the Bill of Rights was to ensure that the Federal Government did not abuse its powers. So widely was this understood to be the purpose of the Bill of Rights that in Barron v. Baltimore (1833), Chief Justice John Marshall for a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the Bill of Rights limited only the powers of the Federal Government, not those of the states. This was the only significant constitutional decision in which Marshall ever ruled against federal authority.
James Madison endeavored in the First Congress to include in Congress’s proposed bill of rights an amendment providing for federal judicial oversight of states” behavior in respect to certain rights. His effort was unavailing. Thus, when “originalist” Antonin Scalia announced that the First Amendment establishes a right to burn a flag enforceable by federal courts against state authorities, he showed exactly how “originalist” he really is. When Randy Barnett took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal last week to state that federal protection of all individual rights against state infringement was part of the original plan of the U.S. Constitution, he revealed how concerned with the consent of the governed he really is.
And when notable gun-rights advocates such as Don Kates and Stephen P. Halbrook argued for the “incorporation” of the Second Amendment into the Due Process Clause “ that is, for right-wing judicial legislation “they demonstrated that, as has been true for most of American history, the Constitution has come to be (in Jefferson’s words) “a thing of wax” waiting to be reshaped by today’s Judicial-Branch majority into the opposite of what it “meant” yesterday.
As Raoul Berger showed years ago in his The Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights (for anyone who cared to know), the argument that the Due Process Clause was intended to work this thorough revolution in the American order is entirely bogus. But judicial activists, nay, anti-constitutionalists on the right are no slower to deploy it than their mirror images on the Left to win through the federal judiciary what they desire: victories for their policies that they have been unable to achieve at the ballot box.
Concurring in the judgement of his three-judge panel, Judge Ronald M. Gould wrote that of course the Second Amendment did not empower individuals to keep nuclear weapons in their homes. The incorporated Second Amendment gun right, then, would be subject to “reasonable” regulation.
This is what the Incorporation Doctrine has given us: in place of reservation of these areas of law to state governments for regulation via legislative elections, we get seizure of control over them by unelected, unaccountable, politically connected lawyers (that is, federal judges) who purport to substitute “reason” for the (one infers) “unreasonable” regulations crafted by elected officials. One does not have to be a gun banner to lament Nordyke v. King “ and all its cousins.
The Incorporation Doctrine sounds benign enough. Who could oppose having federal courts stand up for individuals” rights, even if their doing so does violate the structure of the Constitution? Historically, however, it has not turned out so well.
It was under the cover of the Incorporation Doctrine that federal courts recently invented a right of child rapists not to face the ultimate penalty for their crimes. It was under the cover of the Incorporation Doctrine, indeed, that a Supreme Court majority for several years banned capital punishment altogether.
It was under the cover of the Incorporation Doctrine that the Supreme Court eliminated state prohibitions of various types of pornography. The Incorporation Doctrine also underlies the Court-created ban on prayer, even on moments of silence, in public schools. The Incorporation Doctrine has allowed federal courts to invent rights to burn flags, ban invocations at high school graduations, and establish essentially a national code of “acceptable” punishments.
Whatever one thinks of these various policy departures (and many of them actually tickle my fancy), the bottom line is that every time a court invented one of them, or legions of other Incorporation Doctrine policies, it did so despite what the Constitution actually meant. Which means that to the extent that we live under the Incorporation Doctrine, we live under a judicial dictatorship.
A young Romanian friend, who is translating my work into his native language, recently sent me the latest book by Romanian social thinker and University of Maryland professor of government Vladimir Tismaneanu. A thin, discursive volume, Fantasies of Salvation was produced by Princeton University Press. The same press also published my book After Liberalism but then found my later analysis of multiculturalism insufficiently forward-thinking to justify any further patronage of my products. Fantasies of Salvation is clearly different from my lamentations. Tismaneanu has garnered appropriately long blurbs from Polish social democrat Adam Michnik and from various defenders of the current Liberal Democratic Romanian government, a regime that is sufficiently “pro-Western” to have decriminalized incest. In any case, Princeton prefers this hymn to a glorious pax Americana (presumably under Obama) to my gloomy reflections on the problems of Western democracy. Semper sursum, as the Latin motto goes, or as General Electric used to announce: “We”re all about progress.”
Tismaneanu travels in good company. He can boast of oodles of neocon cash, together with an institute at Maryland, paid for by the usual suspects, designed to inflict on the Romanian people a state-of-the-art version of “democratic” values. It’s not as if this impoverished country didn”t have enough tsuras climbing out from under the rubble of the sadistic, grasping regime of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. It is now destined to be taught by the residents of Obamaland how to create the proper form of democratic government, together with a “civil society” that corresponds to the values of the re-educators. Apparently this project worked so well with the Krauts and imbued them with such inexpressible loathing for their national identity that the same project is to be tried again for the benefit of Eastern Europeans.
Having said this by way of introduction, I should point out that Tismaneanu’s diatribe against European anti-Semitism, democracy deficits in Romanian civil society, and the forever ominous example of German illiberalism is about as digestible as a cardboard box. Without mincing words: his book has all the freshness of a maggot-covered corpse.
Here we meet the usual rogues” gallery of “undemocratic types,” Franjo Tudjman, the first premier of post-Communist Croatia who, we are told, managed to be both a Leninist and a throwback to the pro-Nazi Croatian Ustacha, such interwar authoritarian Central and Eastern European heads of state as Miklos Horthy of Hungary, Joszef Pilsudski of Poland, and the World War Two Romanian quasi-dictator Ion Antonescu, and finally, anyone else hanging around the current Balkan scene who doesn”t fit the global democratic mold. We”re also given ample heaps of Fritz Stern railing against the German Sonderweg and tortuous warnings from Habermas about the collective German past.
Tismaneanu is also palpably upset about the Romanian ultranationalist politician Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who insists that all of Moldavia (and not just the Western part) should belong to Romania. What he fails to stress is that Tudor had previously worked for the Communists. This opportunistic politician recast himself as a Romanian expansionist in the post-Communist society after Tismaneanu and other Romanian Liberal Democrats and the Romanian Social Democratic president Ion Iliescu had gone after the National Peasant Party as a remnant of the agrarian, pre-modern past. According to my Romanian friend Mircea Platon, it was the crusade pursued by Tismaneanu and his circle against the traditional national (but non-expansionist) Right that allowed Tudor and his Greater Romania Party to come out of the shadow of their involvement with Ceausescu to form an aggressive nationalist movement. The war in Romania against the old Right-Center, and its attempted replacement by a GOP look-alike, prepared the way for Tudor’s ascent as the Romanian nationalist par excellence.
There are further problems with Tismameanu’s tendentious picture. Even if I accepted his analysis of a innately Nazi Germans, supplied by Stern-Habermas, why should that cause me to believe that everyone’s national identity is as intrinsically evil as that of the Germans? Not even the neocons teach anything as sweepingly negative. These self-proclaimed global democrats make generous allowances for the current anti-German, pro-Israeli nationalist government of Poland, and prominent neoconservatives were very much on the side of the Turks when the Armenians tried to get the U.S. Congress to recognize the Armenian claim to a Turkish genocide against the Armenians during World War One. After all, the Turks, whether or not they have created a “democratic” political culture, are Israel’s best friends in that part of the world. If the neoconservatives are gnashing their teeth over the appointment of an ultra-rightwing Jewish nationalist as Israeli foreign minister, I must have missed it. Clearly, the Israelis have a neocon right to be as identitarian as they want. To the charge that Romanians have lost such a right to national identity because they have shown anti-Semitism in the past, well, what about the Polish exception to this rule? Obviously the American neoconservative press has long ceased beating up on the Poles for past anti-Semitism, seeing that Poland has become politically useful. Perhaps Romanian nationalists could learn the same game.
Moreover, nations that do not feel they are part of a national community are very much subject to those nations that do. Thus the Teutonophobe, nationalist Polish government has explicitly forbidden the German Chancellor to set up a center in Berlin that calls attention to Poland’s crimes against German minorities from 1945 onward. Although these crimes resulted in millions of deaths and expulsions, Germans are forbidden”and have forbidden themselves”to express what the German press and the Polish government consider “revanchist” sentiments. Meanwhile the Polish government imposes new demands on the Germans to pay further reparations for Polish laborers brought to Germany during World War Two. When the two countries discuss ticklish controversies at joint conferences or in joint publications, the Germans obligingly provide the account of past events favored by Polish nationalists. Should Romanians now follow the German example to prove to the world that they”re “good democrats”? Perhaps they have a right to be “democratic” like the Poles, that is, in a way not resembling the character of a dishrag.
Anyhow the Germans have taken the necessary steps to becoming post-national and may soon cease to exist as an ethnic nation. For example, Germans no longer reproduce their evil seed, although Habermas hopes that his people will stay around long enough to make an impression as inconsolable penitents before the rest of the world. Furthermore, the Germans are happily allowing their government to hand them over to an EU super-state, even without a popular vote. And then there’s the ultimate act of German national suicide, which consists of handing over inner cities to mostly uneducated and often fanatically Muslim immigrants. One can thereby eliminate German fascism and illiberal German nationalism both at the same time by getting rid of the people in question.
The problem with this project in global democratic indoctrination, beyond its obvious selectivity in terms of who is allowed to manifest identitarian sentiments, is the attempt to remove the lifeblood from historic nations. Why should Eastern European countries be turned into local illustrations of the present politics and popular culture of the U.S.? New York is fine where it is (for those who like what it is). But why must Bucharest and Tallinn be made to resemble American urban life and mores in ways that are inconsistent with ingrained traditions and tastes?
The recipes for modernization that Tismameanu favors are taken from late modern Western societies and based on individualism and constantly expanding “human rights.” But why must Romanians judge themselves by these standards, and particularly since those American characteristics that Tismaneanu claims to value, such as individualism, have come increasingly under attack in the current West? To what extent, are the dominant cultural-political tendencies in the West, represented by multiculturalism, and the assignment of collective guilt or victimological status, an extension of the right to be judged as an individual? Individual rights are those privileges that public administrators, often ruling through undemocratic political entities, like the EU, assign or withdraw from those under their control.
One last point: the task that Eastern Europeans should set for themselves is not how they can imitate the Germans or become ersatz Americans but something far more practical: reconciling two interests, national specificity and regional cooperation. The Poles are doing the first but not the second when they take advantage of the current German masochism. The Baltic peoples satisfy both interests when they celebrate their national independence and ethnic traditions but try to coexist with large Russian minorities, whom the Soviets moved into their countries after deporting the native populations.
Of course the Balts may have no alternative with the Russian Bear on their borders, but whatever the case, they have been remarkably tolerant of those who were imposed on them by their oppressors. They have also made transitions to post-Communist societies, a subject that Tismameanu claims to be an expert on. But Baltic nations have made these transitions with unmistakably patriotic governments that rest on popular foundations. Moreover, their populations seem to be more interested in what the Communists did to them, for example, murdering millions of their countrymen, than they are in giving EU-mandated lessons on antifascism and homophobia. Such behavior seems entirely healthy, although not politically correct, nor likely to attract neocon funding.
In light of the Obama administration’s recent torture memo release, there is one simple moral question we all should be asking. If U.S. soldiers were sent to jail for committing torture, might not the same fate be appropriate for government officials who ordered them to do so?
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After opening the door to a truth commission to investigate torture by the CIA of al-Qaida subjects, and leaving the door open to prosecution of higher-ups, President Obama walked the cat back.
He is now opposed to a truth commission. That means it is dead. He is no longer interested in prosecutions. That means no independent counsel—for now.
Sen. Harry Reid does not want any new “commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what the facts are.” Thus, there will be none. The place to find out the facts, says the majority leader, is the intelligence committee of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Though belated, White House recognition that high-profile public hearings on the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA in the Bush-Cheney years could divide the nation and rip this city apart is politically wise.
For any such investigation must move up the food chain from CIA interrogators, to White House lawyers, to the Cabinet officers who sit on the National Security Council, to Dick Cheney, to The Decider himself.
And what is the need to re-air America’s dirty linen before a hostile world, when the facts are already known.
The CIA did use harsh treatment on al-Qaida. That treatment was sanctioned by White House and Justice Department lawyers. The NSC, Cheney and President Bush did sign off. And Obama has ordered all such practices discontinued.
This is not a question of “What did the president know and when did he know it?” It is a question of the legality and morality of what is already known. And on this, the country is rancorously split.
Many contend that torture is inherently evil, morally outrageous and legally impermissible under both existing U.S. law and the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war.
Moreover, they argue, torture does not work.
Its harvest is hatred, deceptions and lies. And because it is cowardly and cruel, torture degrades those who do it, as well as those to whom it is done. It instills a spirit of revenge in its victims.
When the knowledge of torture is made public, as invariably it is, it besmirches America’s good name and serves as a recruiting poster for our enemies and a justification to use the same degrading methods on our men and women.
And it makes us no better than the Chinese communist brain-washers of the Korean War, the Japanese war criminals who tortured U.S. POWs and the jailers at the Hanoi Hilton who tortured Sen. John McCain.
Moreover, even if done in a few monitored cases, where it seems to be the only way to get immediate intelligence to save hundreds or thousands from imminent terror attack, down the chain of command they know it is being done. Thus, we get sadistic copycat conduct at Abu Ghraib by enlisted personnel to amuse themselves at midnight.
While the legal and moral case against torture is compelling, there is another side.
Let us put aside briefly the explosive and toxic term.
Is it ever moral to kill? Of course. We give guns to police and soldiers, and honor them as heroes when they use their guns to save lives.
Is it ever moral to inflict excruciating pain? Of course. Civil War doctors who cut off arms and legs in battlefield hospitals saved many soldiers from death by gangrene.
The morality of killing or inflicting severe pain depends, then, not only on the nature of the act, but on the circumstances and motive.
The Beltway Snipers deserved death sentences. The Navy Seal snipers who killed those three Somali pirates and saved Captain Richard Phillips deserve medals.
Consider now Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of 9-11, which sent 3,000 Americans to horrible deaths, and who was behind, if he did not do it himself, the beheading of Danny Pearl.
Even many opponents against torture will concede we have the same right to execute Khalid Mohammed as we did Timothy McVeigh. But if we have a right to kill him, do we have no moral right to waterboard him for 20 minutes to force him to reveal plans and al-Qaida accomplices to save thousands of American lives?
Americans are divided.
“Rendition,” a film based on a true story, where an innocent man suspected of belonging to a terrorist cell is sent to an Arab country and tortured, won rave reviews.
But more popular was “Taken,” a film in which Liam Neeson, an ex-spy, has a daughter kidnapped by white slavers in Paris, whom he tortures for information to rescue her and bring her home.
Certainly, Cheney and Bush, who make no apologies for what they authorized to keep America safe for seven and a half years, should be held to account. But so, too, should Barack Obama, if U.S. citizens die in a terror attack the CIA might have prevented, had its interrogators not been tied to an Army Field Manual written for dealing with soldiers, not al-Qaida killers who favor “soft targets” such as subways, airliners and office buildings.
After eight years of watching conservatives blow trillions of dollars and comport themselves like anti-intellectual, jingoistic blockheads, I found myself ashamed to admit that the Left seemed to have all the genuine intellectuals”people who seemed to possess real curiosity, who refused to accept whatever official line the government was shelling out, and who sought genuine understanding instead of name-calling and pointless vitriol.
With the Left now in power, though, they”ve by and large reverted to form. The very same people who just a year ago prided themselves on evaluating every Pentagon press release with an air of suspicion and hostility now accept without cavil whatever the Federal Reserve chairman or the Treasury secretary tell them. They”ll believe whatever economic superstition, no matter how transparently ludicrous, that happens to be in fashion. Whatever happened to “Question Authority”?
Air America host Thom Hartmann is a perfect example. His article on the economic crisis posted at the Huffington Post gets pretty much everything dead wrong, and yet his point of view is by and large the conventional wisdom.
Let’s start with the economists whose ideas, according to Hartmann, led us to the current crisis. Why, they”re “Ludwig Von Mises, Freidrich [sic] Von Hayeck [sic], Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Tom Freidman [sic], Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Ayn Rand.”
Now I”m sporting enough to look past the fact that Hartmann makes two spelling errors in a single economist’s name. Still, color me skeptical that Hartmann knows a blessed thing about the work of F.A. Hayek. (I assume he thinks these people are more or less interchangeable, that Mises = Friedman = Summers = Rubin, that Mises wouldn”t have denounced at least several of these figures, and that the differences between them are probably just trivial and not worth mentioning.)
Quiz time, Thom! Name one book on economic theory (so The Road to Serfdom, if you happen to have heard of it, doesn”t count) Hayek wrote that you”ve read, flipped through, held in your hand, or even heard of. Stumped? How about one article? Stumped again? Then why not do the decent and honorable thing and shut up until you can speak from authority rather than prejudice and ignorance? Sound fair?
Actually, Thom, I”ll be even more sporting. You can start condemning them again once you can at least competently summarize what someone who has read them tells you they say. How’s that?
Hilariously, then, Hartmann lumps Mises and Hayek in with Alan Greenspan, the so-called free-marketeer who thinks we need a Soviet commissar (namely himself) to plan money and interest rates. Um, Thom, Mises and Hayek opposed central banking altogether, arguing that it was not only a superfluous intervention into the market economy but also that it was destabilizing and the source of the boom-bust cycle. These men are supposed to be similar to Greenspan how, exactly? Can I take a wild guess that you”re out of your depth here, Thom, and therefore simply making things up?
I”ve summarized the Mises-Hayek position elsewhere (flip to page 13 here, for instance, or see Meltdown, my recently released book on what caused the crisis and why the free market is not the cause but the solution). In a nutshell, the point is that when the government’s central bank intervenes in the economy to push interest rates lower than the free market would have set them, the result of its tampering is a massive cluster of errors (to use Lionel Robbins” phrase) on the part of investors and consumers alike. It goes without saying that a government central bank’s intervention into the market to push interest rates lower than the free market would have set them cannot, by definition, be the fault of the free market. The problems Hartmann identifies in his article, as well as the ones he neglects or doesn”t know about, are mere symptoms of a more fundamental cause, namely the creation of cheap credit by the Fed. Whatever happened to leftists” interest in “root causes”?
This raises another issue about Hartmann’s piece: not a single word about the Federal Reserve System, as if it played no role at all in the crisis. Not one word! Is Hartmann actually ignorant of the Fed’s role? Does he, as I suspect, actually defend the Fed?
How I”d love to hear Thom’s defense of the Fed as a progressive institution. That would be rich. Here’s the guy who claims to oppose the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, and yet that is precisely what the Cantillon effects of expansionary monetary policy do. It’s also what the Fed’s role as “lender of last resort” does. If Hartmann thinks that power is exercised in defense of the little guy, he is hopeless. Hopeless with an exponent beside it.
Now I know you”re waiting with bated breath to know about Hartmann’s take on the S&L fiasco of the 1980s. What laser beam of insight might he share with us? Whatever could Thom blame that one on? Who can predict such a thing?
I”m telling you, you”ll need to do some breathing exercises, and perhaps a little quiet meditation, to prepare yourself for the careful nuance and devastating originality of Hartmann’s answer.
The S&L crisis was caused, he says, by…”deregulation.” (I”m as speechless as you are.)
Before Ronald Reagan and his crazy deregulation spree, you see, everything worked fine. Then Reagan was elected, and he repealed all the laws. Society practically reverted to barbarism. Everyone grew slightly hairier. Wolves ran free in the streets.
What actually happened was a little less cartoonish. First, so-called deregulation of the S&Ls began under Jimmy Carter, not Reagan. I say “so-called” because, as with most measures trumpeted as “deregulation,” it was nothing of the kind: all throughout the process of alleged deregulation, the S&Ls” deposits continued to be covered under government deposit insurance. Deregulation means the removal of government involvement and control. Does this sound like the removal of government involvement and control to you? To the contrary, it gave us the worst of both worlds”though, naturally, Hartmann will blame the consequences on “deregulation” and “capitalism,” terms I doubt he could even define.
Under the government-established rules, the S&Ls could charge 6 percent on loans, and could offer depositors a mere 3 percent. Since most depositors had nowhere else to go, they had to content themselves with a miserable 3 percent return.
With the advent of the money-market mutual fund, ordinary people suddenly had the chance to earn higher returns, and began pulling their money out of S&Ls in droves. Consequently, the S&Ls wanted permission to offer higher interest returns for depositors, so “deregulation” allowed them to do so. Had the original government requirements remained in place, the S&Ls would have gone under then and there.
A consensus began to form that in order to save the S&Ls, their government-established loan and deposit interest-rate requirements, as well as the kind of loans they could make, had to be modified in light of the impossible conditions under which these institutions were forced to operate. The S&Ls needed to be permitted to engage in riskier investments than 30-year mortgages at 6 percent. (Notice: it’s the fault of the free market when the government modifies the government-established rules of a government-established institution, while its deposits continue to be guaranteed by the government. Got it?)
Maybe the S&Ls should have gone under in 1980. Perhaps they really did have an impossible business model. There is no non-arbitrary basis for deciding one way or the other, since the S&Ls were never genuinely subject to a market test. The government husbanded and cartelized the S&Ls, and stood ready to bail them out after that.
Thom Hartmann, meanwhile, looks at this situation and concludes that the problem was too much deregulation and too much capitalism. I am at a loss as to how to describe a person like this.
Hartmann also denounces the dreaded “Reagan tax cuts,” which were largely nullified by the Reagan tax increases and loophole closings. Tax revenues, in fact, rose substantially and consistently during the Reagan years, and you”d never know from Hartmann’s comments that the top 5 percent of earners now pay 60 percent of the costs of government. That’s not enough for Thom Hartmann, naturally, who never met a problem he didn”t think could be solved with more forced labor, which is what income taxation, stripped of the platitudes and propaganda, really is. (If you favor forced labor for the purpose of filling the coffers of our wise public servants, to be disbursed on behalf of society’s most vulnerable”since that’s our politicians” number-one concern, don”t you know”then that makes you a “progressive” like ol” Thom.)
Then comes the inevitable post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: the American economy was strong back when the top income tax rate was 90 percent, so therefore high marginal income tax rates are great for the economy! How does Hartmann know that American prosperity didn”t occur in spite of, rather than because of, those high rates? Without the help of economic theory, which Hartmann seems allergic to, how can we decide which of these possibilities is correct?
I genuinely wonder how someone like Hartmann thinks wealth is created. Nothing I can see indicates he’s given the matter much thought. The average person’s standard of living, he seems certain, occurs because we loot and shackle the wealthy, who are mere parasites on the backs of working people, the real engines of the economy.
Leaving aside the odd view that only manual laborers engage in “work,” all the brawn in the world could never have produced a steam engine or a Pentium processor. Only when informed by the knowledge of inventors and supplied with the capital saved by capitalists can the average laborer produce the tiniest fraction of what he is today accustomed to producing. The central ingredient in a laborer’s physical productivity is the equipment and machinery at his disposal. There is nothing natural or inevitable about the availability of this productivity-enhancing capital equipment. It comes from the wicked capitalists” abstention from consumption, and the allocation of the unconsumed resources in capital investment. This process is the only way the general standard of living can possibly rise. Hartmann thinks it’s just swell to tax it.
The increases in the productivity of labor that additional capital makes possible, by increasing the overall amount of output and thereby increasing the ratio of consumers” goods to the supply of labor, make prices lower relative to wage rates and thereby raise real wages. That’s why, in order to earn the money necessary to acquire a wide range of necessities, far fewer labor hours are necessary today than in the past”say, 1950 or 1900. Thanks to capital investment, which is what businesses engage in when their profits aren”t seized from them, our economy is far more physically productive than it used to be, and therefore consumer goods exist in far greater abundance and are correspondingly less dear than before.
American society, in short, would have been far wealthier and the material level of all people would have been dramatically higher had top income tax rates been lower throughout the twentieth century. Had government not seized so many resources to squander on consumption, those resources would have been available for investment that would have made the economy permanently capable of producing far more wealth than otherwise. Everyone’s standard of living would, as a result, have been far higher.
Hartmann gives no indication that he understands any of this. To the contrary, he seems to think (in addition to the egalitarian rationales he”d surely give for the seizure of some people’s property) the lack of government wealth redistribution yields the boom-bust business cycle! If wealth disparities caused the boom-bust cycle, we”d experience economic depressions everywhere in the world, constantly.
Hartmann’s argument runs, in effect: “Citizen, you need to be looted in order to stabilize the system [a nonsensical idea Hartmann came across in the popular Keynesianism that forms the entirety of his economic knowledge]. Let us hear no more anti-social talk about your so-called rights. All hail The System! Wherever would we be without the stabilizing power of violence!”
As for the nonsense about FDR’s New Deal “stabilizing us””and the perverse argument that our economy will never be stable unless the people are violently expropriated”check out economist Robert P. Murphy’s new book The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal. Its playful title notwithstanding, this book mercilessly bludgeons thoughtless clichÃ©s like this.
At least the mafia has the decency not to put such transparently phony claims over on you. They”re honest: we”re taking your money because we have power, and you don”t.
What it all boils down to is this: one side of our political spectrum favors the central planning of Iraq, while the other favors the central planning of Americans. We can only hope for the continued growth of a third side, one that rejects as unworthy of a free people all the superstitious nonsense about the magical powers of our overlords, whether that power is exercised at home or abroad.
If U.S. soldiers were prosecuted and imprisoned for committing torture at Abu Ghraib, why should Bush officials who gave the orders not suffer the same consequences
In 1914, on the very eve of the Great War, G.K. Chesterton published his humorous novel The Flying Inn. The story concerned a Turkish plot to invade England, all with the connivance of Britain’s progressive elite. At the superficial level, Chesterton’s fears of the Ottoman Empire must have seemed preposterous. Turkey had long been the “sick man of Europe,” and it would emerge from the coming military cataclysm with only its core in Asia Minor and a strip of land in Europe that permitted control of the Bosporus. The great writer’s underlying aim, however, went far beyond contemporary power politics.
Chesterton sought to convey the central truth that seemingly fantastic turns of events can come about through spiritual collapse. This assertion was proved correct outside the pages of his book. As Europeans, supremely confident of their material civilization, plunged into industrial-scale suicide, hindsight shows us that physical disaster was preceded by disaster in higher realms. Philosophers, statesmen and scientists rejected their ancient Christian faith to exalt the seemingly limitless potential of man. It is therefore ironic that the very circumstances of The Flying Inn hint at correspondence with today’s geopolitics. A century later, Turkey is ascendant, and Islamic inroads into Europe are aided and abetted by the ruling classes of the West.
With this context in mind, it shouldn”t surprise us that America is intensively courting Turkey as an enhanced strategic ally. When President Barack Obama delivered a speech before the Turkish parliament on April 6th, he wasn”t simply seeking to smooth feathers ruffled from the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The president included his usual appeals to “common dreams” and “coming together,” but also outlined substantive aspects of the U.S.-Turkish relationship. The White House’s vision for an alliance is expansive; it seeks to harness Ankara’s growing influence in multiple regions. Policy planners in Washington appreciate Turkey’s rising power and hope to channel it in their designs for Eurasia, the Islamic world and even Europe.
Turkey is proving attractive to U.S. policymakers for a number of reasons. The first of these is the country’s geographic centrality. As their Ottoman predecessors extended political, economic and cultural influence from the Middle East to Central Asia and from the Caucasus to the Balkans, so too can modern-day Turks. Washington needs Turkey for its strategic agenda in Eurasia. Ankara would be a major participant in U.S. efforts to undermine Russia’s sphere of influence and secure a “new Silk Road” of energy pipelines from Central Asia to Europe that bypass Moscow. The Turks would also play a key role in countering Iranian ambitions in the Middle East.
Demographics and an economic base for future power projection make Turkey a potential heir to the Ottoman Empire. Its population is increasing steadily at replacement rate, and will reach almost 90 million by 2020. While problems with the Kurdish minority persist, the country remains ethnically cohesive. The Turkish economy is robust, and Ankara has weathered the global financial downturn better than many European states. The nation is a regional manufacturing center that exports not just textiles and food products, but electronics and Toyota automobiles. With assistance in military technology transfers from partners such as the U.S., Israel and South Korea, Turkey is seeking to achieve 50% self-sufficiency in armaments production by 2011. This fact is also significant, as it is the only Muslim state with a viable industrial sector.
Turkey’s Islamic identity is the other major reason that brought Obama to Ankara. Washington holds Turkey as a model for emulation by other Muslim countries. Turkey seems, in the eyes of policymakers, the perfect fit to complement U.S. strategy in the region: it’s a large Muslim democracy and a member of NATO. “Moderate” Turkish Islam, influenced by the mystically oriented Sufi brotherhoods, is seen as a less rigid and more even-tempered alternative to the Salafist strains that inspire many jihadist movements. Ankara is hailed by Western media for its simultaneous adherence to Islam as well as secular and pluralistic political notions. Confounded with the intractability of Muslim populations in relation to American “outreach,” the United States would dearly like for Turkey to help manage the Islamic world, and the Turks seem willing to oblige.
Ankara has already taken the lead in mediation efforts from the Levant to the Hindu Kush. The Turks have been holding intermittent peace talks between seemingly implacable foes Syria and Israel for almost a year. They also recently sponsored Afghan-Pakistani negotiations aimed at quelling the cross-border Taliban insurgency that now rages in both countries. Washington can only be pleased with these initiatives, since its convoluted social engineering agenda for the Muslim world is receiving little help from the Europeans. The Obama administration hopes to extricate itself from Iraq, only to reinvest men, money and materiel into the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, in addition to containing Iran. Turkey could ease Washington’s problems in the region, though such assistance naturally has its price.
In return for Ankara’s assistance on matters of stability in the Muslim world and pipeline geopolitics in Eurasia, Washington will promote Turkey as a major regional power. This is seen by the foreign policy establishment as a natural and responsible choice. If anyone was unsure of the centrality of the U.S.-Turkish alliance, the man nominated to be the Department of State’s Secretary of European and Eurasian affairs, Philip Gordon, is a Turkish specialist. Gordon in his statements has been careful to avoid naming the 1915 Armenian genocide as such, and has also referred to Turkey’s 35-year military occupation of northern Cyprus as a “Turkish presence” on the island.
The Turks themselves have been adept at lobbying for such outcomes in the halls of power on K Street and Capitol Hill. They have received guidance and advice from influential friends, as well. Ankara’s main lobbying organization in Washington, the American Turkish Council, was created along the lines of AIPAC. The Israelis and Turks enjoy support from some of the same patrons, including prominent neoconservatives Douglas Feith and Richard Perle. Former intelligence officer Philip Giraldi has investigated these connections as well as the activities of the Turkish, Israeli and Pakistani secret services in acquiring classified political information and nuclear weapons technologies. Influence operations and espionage aside, there has been bipartisan consensus (with the blessing of several major defense contractors and oil companies) under successive U.S. administrations for boosting Turkey’s rise.
The symbolic culmination of American support of Turkish power has been U.S. backing for Turkey’s accession into the European Union. In his Ankara speech, Obama explained this policy in the following terms:
“Turkey is bound to Europe by more than the bridges over the Bosporus. Centuries of shared history, culture, and commerce bring you together. Europe gains by the diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith- it is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe’s foundation once more.”
The current administration is giving U.S. sponsorship of Turkish entry into the EU, also enthusiastically supported under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, a new resonance. “Diversity” has at last become a real foreign policy objective! Yet even the leaderships of France and Germany, who permit Muslim immigrants to settle in their countries by the millions, have enough sense of popular sentiment (and memory) not to push for Turkish membership. Why might Europeans instinctively reject a proposal in line with Brussels” own multiculturalist ideology?
Turkey is bound to Europe by invasion. This is the source of Obama’s pleasant-sounding “centuries of shared history.” The Byzantine Empire, longtime guardian of Christianity in the East, was conquered in a series of campaigns by the Seljuks and Ottomans, Turkic tribes that swept in from the steppes of Central Asia. History acts as a witness. Ankara could receive EU membership tomorrow, but Turkey has never been European in any meaningful sense. As the armies of Suleiman the Magnificent battered against the walls of Vienna in 1683, the city’s defenders understood this implicitly.
Identity is often less a matter of race than of religion and cultural heritage. The Bulgarians, for example, were a Turkic people that adopted Slavic ways and accepted Christianity. Magyars, horsemen from Siberia and the terror of 10th-century Christendom, under St. Stephen founded the Kingdom of Hungary. Europe, whatever the drafters of the multivolume EU Constitution might suppose, can ultimately only be defined through the origins of a common Christian culture. The Ottomans long commanded suzerainty across the Balkans and Mediterranean as conquerors, but they were never of Europe. Turkey maintains an undeniably rich and unique culture, but its core and overall character are Islamic and Asiatic.
It is perhaps because of Turkey’s cultural character that US foreign policy elites are so insistent upon the country’s integration into the EU. Washington’s strategy in the Balkans, which is predicated on empowering Muslim Albanians and Bosnians, offers a remarkable parallel to Ottoman rule. It would also be a prelude to empowering Turkey in Europe. Eliminating the already flimsy European frontier with Turkey would further undermine the nations of the continent, especially in terms of demography. How many Turks would travel, unimpeded, to join their almost 3 million compatriots already residing in the cities of a Germany reproducing below replacement levels? Fellow Turks in Europe are to remain wholly Turkish, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has emphasized. Liberal fantasies about the assimilation of incompatible cultures can be put to rest.
U.S. advocacy of Turkey’s integration into Europe is just one facet of a long-held revolutionary dream that has shaped the leaders of Western societies. This vision seeks to overturn natural order in favor of an atomizing egalitarianism that can conceive of nothing above economic expediency and the whims of the sovereign will. Every measure of its progress leads individuals and entire nations further into dissolution. Sufficient tragedy has already resulted from European governing classes” abandonment of religious tradition and its cultural vessels, from mass politics and mechanized slaughter to crime-infested third world ghettoes that abut red light districts. There is little reason to allow Turkey into Europe if a spiritually bankrupt modern West is to someday have a chance at renewal.
America’s Turkish gambit will produce a series of unintended consequences. U.S. foreign policy is assisting the reemergence of a pivotal Muslim state with an imperial past and a growing capability for power projection. The Turks are unlikely to do Washington’s bidding for long; even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Ottoman sultans had controlled an empire on three continents for almost three hundred years. Debates over “moderate” Islam and “radical” Islam are entirely uninformed by historical experience and miss the point, as the dwindling grip of the secular Kemalists will be seen as an aberration. Turkey is an Islamic power with its own interests, its own civilization and its own cultural mission. NATO allies or not, Ankara’s Christian neighbors in Greece, the Balkans and the Caucasus know this fact well. Their peaceful acceptance of Turkish regional primacy will be unlikely.
Washington’s complicity in the rise of Turkish power will be on the level of the “blowback” created by U.S. support for the Shah and the Iranian Islamic Revolution. The case of Turkey, even without dramatic events in the near term, will be of greater significance. While Iran would like to lead the Muslim world, Turkey is the strongest candidate. It is, after all, Sunni, not Shia, and Ankara’s political and economic relations with the Arab states of the Middle East have a solid foundation from the Ottoman period. By virtue of strategic geography, the Turks can also pursue their foreign policy along multiple vectors. The professionalism and capabilities of today’s Turkish military, the second largest in NATO, give form to what Hilaire Belloc foresaw in 1929:
Islam was [once] our superior, especially in military art. There is no reason why its recent inferiority in mechanical construction, whether military or civilian, should continue indefinitely. Even a slight accession of material power would make the further control of Islam by an alien culture difficult. A little more and there will cease that which our time has taken for granted, the physical domination of Islam by the disintegrated Christendom we know.
Among other arms acquisitions, Turkey is planning to receive delivery of 100 advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighters beginning in 2014. Belloc’s prediction is already coming to pass.
The United States has for the better part of a decade been engaged in poorly defined actions against jihadists guided by a universalist, liberal creed. By forging a strategic alliance with Turkey, U.S policymakers betray the same willful blindness and illusory hopes imposed by such a limited worldview. Our elites” “democracy” advocacy and fanciful projections of Islam are leading again to disaster. Through its celebrated partnership with Turkey, Washington is helping to materially revive Islamic power from its centuries of slumber. As the Turks make their return to the arena of great states, the ages-old enmity between Islam and the West will assume dimensions previously unimagined.
The U.S. embrace of Turkey is symptomatic of our secular elites” disdain for the roots of Western culture, and their desire to replace it with something wholly alien. Such are the wages of an empty and world-flattening humanism. Rather than explore our natural bonds with the Orthodox Christian nations to better confront the challenges of Islam and China, Washington antagonizes and attempts to encircle a Russia still scarred from the ravages of Communist rule. Who will protect the tattered remnants of Christendom and aid in its recovery? Elected officials, bureaucrats, corporate executives and judges on both sides of the Atlantic are engaged in an unceasing campaign to destroy any traces of its vitality.
Chesterton’s Flying Inn closes on a hopeful note. With the help of some tipsy eccentrics, the people of England mount a revolt and defeat the sultan’s army of occupation. Faith, tradition and the organic integrity of culture prevail. The moralistic social engineer who hoped to inaugurate a new, enlightened era in Britain was revealed to be insane precisely because of his warped ideological program. Today’s ruling classes are long entrenched and still wield great power, but their ruinous policies are catching up with them. With grace and good will, the peoples of the West may yet arise, shake off the absurdism of our establishment, and restore sanity to the land.