Race to the Top

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What might it look like if the libertarian vision prevailed over that of the “progressive” Left? If the Democratic Party, and the statist Left in general, is to be repealed and replaced, then something must take its place. Merely repealing it, with no replacement, won’t get rid of it. As long as people believe that it fills a need — no matter how badly it may accomplish that — they will at some point, and in some form, welcome it back.

The Libertarian Party has a platform that answers every Democratic crusade with a superior solution. We really can offer those in poverty the hope that they might enjoy a better life instead of a life sentence in their present condition. Our vision of human rights, based on the understanding that we all derive them not from the circumstances that differ but from the humanity we share, would elevate our status beyond that of pawns on a political chessboard. By concentrating on responsible behavior instead of a phobic obsession with drugs or guns — anything inanimate and utterly harmless unless abused — we can stop banning everything and encourage people to stop abusing one another. When we liberate education from the grip of the teachers’ unions and offer real choice to parents and kids, the lessons in liberty they will learn can turn the tide of human thought toward freedom.

Studies show that of the overall population, about 20% are on the hardcore Right and 20% on the equally hard Left. These people will never be moved. That leaves 60% somewhere in the middle. It is these folks who determine the outcome of elections and other decisions affecting us all. The statist Left survives because a majority of those 60% think it performs a necessary function. They may not all think it does its job well, but they at least tolerate its existence, and endure its idiocies, because they can’t imagine anything taking its place.

Libertarians really can offer those in poverty the hope that they might enjoy a better life instead of a life sentence in their present condition.

Statist leftism and liberalism — the latter being the openness to new discoveries, trust in rationality and belief in individual freedom that has given libertarianism its name — are two different concepts entirely. That mammoth standard-bearer for the Right, Rush Limbaugh, evidently ignorant of the difference, bellows about destroying “liberalism.” That isn’t going to happen, and it wouldn’t be a good thing if it did. Liberalism is as much a part of our Western, Judeo-Christian tradition as conservatism. To speak of lopping off half of our tradition is as foolhardy as it would be to advocate the extraction of half of our chromosomes.

Until we figure out how to make the Left obsolete, we will never repeal and replace the Democratic Party. As long as there are marginalized and discontented people — even though the Democrats are largely responsible for their marginalization and discontentment — the donkeys will never be sent out to pasture. Leftism has always been a powerful influence on the modern Democratic Party, and during the Obama years it tightened its stranglehold. Post-Obama, it has throttled the life out of every moderating philosophy.

There truly is a difference between how libertarians might pursue objectives formerly monopolized by the statist Left and the way “progressives” have done so. If every attempt we might make is blasted by our own side as “capitulation,” we need to recognize the message that will send. It will be an admission that the leftists are correct when they lump us all into the “far Right” and claim that they alone can move society forward. Those who have had it drilled into their heads that without their Democratic champions they’d be friendless and hopeless will be more convinced than ever that they can’t live without the authoritarians who supposedly care more about them than they do about themselves. Our lack of interest in replacing what we want to repeal — and in clearly articulating how we can do it — will be taken as an admission of defeat.

To speak of lopping off half of our tradition is as foolhardy as it would be to advocate the extraction of half of our chromosomes.

A crucial difference between libertarianism and the statist Left is our approach to social problems. Contrary to what our adversaries so often assert, many of us do understand that these problems exist, and we are by no means unconcerned about them. But we believe that problems are to be solved, not used as a basis of political employment. Because they think that if those problems disappeared, they themselves would no longer be needed, “progressives” merely perpetuate them. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and poverty must never be seen to diminish. The strangeness of a political movement that can never take credit for its successes — because it dares not admit that any real progress has been made, yet keeps insisting that progress is direly needed — never occurs to its adherents.

Libertarians will always be needed, because liberty will always need to be defended. Problems are impediments to freedom, unless they are solved. But libertarians have no incentive to perpetuate misery into infinity. People who are free to find solutions to their problems are happy, and not susceptible to “progressive” quackery.

The notion that liberty can only be defended by waging war is now widely shared by Republicans and Democrats. Perhaps the most important contribution a Libertarian challenge to the GOP could make would be an end to perpetual war. We would spread American ideals through peaceful trade. Instead of offering the world death and destruction, we might help it to attain a higher standard of living. What if the terrorists held a recruiting drive and nobody came?

The only political war worth fighting is the war for freedom. Government is the number one perpetrator of violence and the biggest threat to liberty. All it knows how to do is force people to conform to its dictates, so no political party dedicated to increasing its power can defend liberty. The political struggle in our country must include one major combatant that fights for freedom — because even if the Democrats magically vanished overnight, the Republicans would still be authoritarians. The GOP must be substantially and consistently challenged by a rival committed to uncoerced cooperation, based on mutual trust.

Perhaps the most important contribution a Libertarian challenge to the GOP could make would be an end to perpetual war.

We can trust that our fellow human beings are not idiots, and that they truly can govern themselves — even when they’re not like us. Each of the big-league political parties portrays the members of its opponent as vile — almost subhuman. They are comic-book villains: godless commies or gun-crazy deplorables. Political contests have degenerated into races to the bottom. Like manic limbo dancers, each side feels compelled to compete with the other by seeing how low it can go.

As it abandons faith in every principle but force and fraud, the Democratic Party is unraveling. If the Libertarian Party were to reach major-league level, it would bring its principles with it: faith in peaceful persuasion, respect for every individual human being, and optimism about our country’s future. Instead of a race to the bottom, competition between the Libertarians and the Republicans might become a race to the top. The repeal and replacement of the Democratic Party could herald a whole new direction for America.




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Le Pen and the Super-State

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Marine Le Pen’s strong showing in the French election, in which she achieved a rough tie for first, makes her eligible for the final round, on May 7. At that point, she will lose, because all the other parties will unite against her.

That’s all right with me. Most of her program is the European equivalent of Bernie Sanders, plus anti-immigration. But she has fired a warning shot across the bows of the European establishment, and that is an important service, more important than libertarians are willing to admit when they are thinking ideologically instead of historically.

The European Union, or at least the European Common Market, was, in a way, a libertarian invention — a vast free trade zone offering an end to the internal warfare that had wrecked Europe on two occasions during the 20th century. But because pan-European institutions have been constructed in an era in which modern liberal ideas and social practices predominate among intellectuals and bureaucrats, the mechanisms of European solidarity became steadily more . . . solid. Bureaucrats in Brussels and their clones throughout the continent began to rule by directive, just like the tsars, and to encroach on every area of life. Europe was on its way to becoming a centralized state, a dictatorship of the bureaucratariat. In a society in which everything is registered, regulated, subsidized, or repressed, and all inconvenient facts are concealed from public view, it’s free trade for crony capitalists, jobs-for-life for entitled workers, permanent unemployment for everyone else, an economic growth rate descending to zero, and whatever civil liberties the nanny state allows you to have.

Le Pen has fired a warning shot across the bows of the European establishment, and that is an important service.

That was bad enough, but for ideological as well as economic reasons, the Eurocrats also brought in millions of migrants, not caring whether the newcomers embraced the values of local populations — because the Eurocrats’ project was to homogenize local populations.

Like things that come out of a copy machine, ideologies degenerate when subjected to generations of reproduction, so I suppose it’s not surprising, although it is shocking, that the European globalists didn’t see any difficulty in the fact that the people they were importing and subsidizing were often violently opposed to modern liberal — or any liberal — ideas. They saw opposition to immigration as a plot to bring back competitive European states — and so it became, as the populations of one state after another turned away from Brussels and toward some image of their own historic cultures. The prominence of Le Pen is a feature of this rebellion, and it is remarkable that in nation after nation, the current competition is between the national culture and Brussels, not among the various nationalisms of Britons, French, Germans, and so forth.

That kind of competition may come, but at present the important thing to recognize is that however uneasy libertarians may feel about the irrationality and sometimes tyranny of local cultures, it’s bad news when they are extinguished by a super-state. Europe’s original growth toward a general culture of personal autonomy and competitive capitalism was greatly encouraged by the fact that creative people could easily move from one local culture to another. This is the secret of the “Protestant” spirit of capitalism — in a religiously divided continent, Protestants and Catholics could see competitive models of society close at hand, and adopt or reject them. (Two interesting discussions of this matter: Hugh Trevor Roper, The European Witch Craze . . . and Other Essays; Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell, How the West Grew Rich.)

In nation after nation, the current competition is between the national culture and Brussels, not among the various nationalisms of Britons, French, Germans, and so forth.

But the idea that individuals should be free to act on their own is as foreign to the Eurocrats as the idea that national cultures should remain distinctive. At what might be the last moment to resist homogenization-by-bureaucratic-edict, Le Pen and the Brexiters and all the rest of them have arisen and are making their impact. They’re on a rescue mission — the rescue of real diversity.

Now, you don’t have to like the EMT guys, but you may be happy that they finally showed up. And if you don’t want them to keep showing up, don’t keep setting your house on fire.




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Swedish Ice Balls

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As anybody who’s suffered through the I am Curious movies waiting for sex to happen, or Wild Strawberries waiting for the damn thing to just end already, already knows, Swedes have an unwholesome tolerance for tedium. Nowhere is this more manifest than in their willingness to put up with magisterial bureaucrats determined to protect them from the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. And I’m not just talking cradle-to-grave socialized living, here. I’m talking fire codes. Sweden must be the only place in the world to require fire extinguishers in igloos.

Being ice, the hotel returns each summer to the river from which it was quarried, and flows away.

Not that my hometown wouldn’t pull such a trick, if anybody could figure out how to build an igloo in Portland. But nobody seems to have done so, at least not that I’ve heard about. So it’s the Swedes who’re left to carry the ball. And carry it they do, because they’ve got a really persuasive igloo up above the Arctic Circle in Lapland. It’s a Swedish-modern sort of igloo they call the Ice Hotel; as the name suggests, the place is made out of ice.

And remade every year, because, being ice, the hotel returns each summer to the river from which it was quarried, and flows away. Every winter, it’s rebuilt room by room, ice-block by ice-block; and there, chiseled into the walls of the long hotel corridors, are niches with fire extinguishers.

Fire extinguishers! The entire building is made out of frozen water. The walls. The ceilings. The floors. The crystals in the crystal chandeliers, the bed my wife and I shared, the elegantly curved staircase leading to the eight-foot high platform beneath the bed. No need to put ice in your drinks, because the glasses in the ice bar are ice, along with the bar itself, and the stools you sit on at the bar. You couldn’t set this place on fire with a flamethrower. But if I’m remembering right what the football coach who taught eighth-grade general science told us, with enough heat — I’m thinking a thermonuclear flamethrower — might be able to ignite the metal in the fire extinguishers.

There you have it. The only flammable objects in the entire Ice Hotel are the fire extinguishers – except, of course, that by the time you got them hot enough to catch fire they wouldn’t, because they’d be at the bottom of a river of melted walls and ceilings and floors and chandeliers and beds and staircases and platforms and bar stools and liquor glasses and the bar the glasses used to sit on.




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Bring On the Trillion Dollar Coin!

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Most Americans regard the federal deficit and the national debt as a single problem. In reality, they are two separate but related problems. Let’s decouple them and discover whether the widely disparaged idea of a “trillion dollar coin” would actually be an improvement over the practice of continuous borrowing to cover the federal government’s deficit.

Hard money is money backed by a tangible good, typically gold or silver. Fiat money is money backed only by the “good faith and credit” of the government issuing it. In the United States, fiat money comes in two flavors. The vast majority of US currency consists of Federal Reserve Notes and their electronic equivalents, backed by government bonds sold to the public and various central banks. These bonds pay interest that is booked as an expense within the government’s annual budget. For fiscal year 2016 interest payments on these bonds totaled $432 billion, or more than $2,800 for each income tax return filed.

Trump needs no additional congressional authority to mint the coin, since the enabling legislation is already in place.

The second type of US fiat money consists of all coinage and a small amount of paper money with the designation “United States Note” rather than “Federal Reserve Note.” This type of paper money, issued mostly in $2 and $5 denominations, circulated alongside Federal Reserve Notes until the 1970s, and is still occasionally found in circulation today. Coins and US notes are not backed by government debt and pay no interest.

A few years ago, when Republicans in Congress were refusing to raise the national debt ceiling, an idea was floated for minting a platinum coin with a face value of one trillion dollars. This was and still is technically legal, thanks to a 1996 law authorizing the minting of platinum bullion and proof coins. The law empowers the Secretary of the Treasury to strike platinum coins in any denomination that he or she deems appropriate. The idea was that the trillion dollar coin would be minted and deposited at the Federal Reserve, which would then credit the government’s account with a trillion dollars. The government could then spend this newly created money by “writing checks” on this account without having to increase the national debt ceiling or issue additional interest-paying bonds.

The idea died when Republicans caved in and agreed to raise the national debt ceiling. Fast forward to 2017, and now it’s the Democrats who are playing budget brinksmanship in an effort to force President Trump to restore funding for many of their pet causes, such as environmental projects and Planned Parenthood. Currently the fight is over the legislation needed to avoid a government “shutdown” by the end of April. Shortly thereafter, Congress must deal with raising the national debt ceiling. Many Democrats can be expected to oppose such an increase if Trump is unwilling to fund their most critical spending priorities. By teaming up with conservative Republicans who oppose on principle any increase in the national debt, congressional Democrats would likely have the votes to block any debt ceiling increase and thus threaten another government “shutdown.”

However, President Trump has the option to do an end run around the Democrats’ plan by dusting off the “trillion dollar coin” idea and actually implementing it. He needs no additional congressional authority to do so, since the enabling legislation is already in place. This would be a bold move with far-reaching consequences, most of them good.

More importantly, the “trillion dollar coin” would sever the link between mounting federal deficits and ever-higher interest payments on the national debt.

For starters, it would deprive the Democrats of their most potent legislative weapon in their drive to maintain and increase spending on programs that subsidize and empower their core constituencies. Defeating the Democrats’ plans would not eliminate the deficit, but it would lead to less government spending than any plan forged by a “bipartisan consensus.”

More importantly, the “trillion dollar coin” would sever the link between mounting federal deficits and ever-higher interest payments on the national debt. Freezing and then lowering these interest payments are essential to the nation’s economic health, as this interest is a substantial drain on disposable income and productivity.

All government-created fiat money is inflationary, and money backed by hard assets would be preferable. But fiat money backed by “trillion dollar coins” is neither more nor less inflationary than fiat money backed by interest-paying bonds. Of the two choices, the “trillion dollar coin” option is better for both taxpayers’ pocketbooks and the nation’s economic health.




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Diversity of Culture Versus Diversity of Background

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I saw the news about the assailant who drove his car over people on the bridge near Big Ben and then crashed into the gate of Parliament, got out with a knife, and attacked other people. This person was an Islamic terrorist.

Now think of other examples of terrorism, such as the man who went to the top of the tower at the University of Texas, 50 years ago, and started shooting people. Think also of the many cases of black people being taken and lynched by white supremacists. All these examples of terrorism resulted from assailants not living by the code of a certain culture, a culture which assumes that all individuals are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In 2009, Andrew Neather, who was a speechwriter for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, defended government-engineered mass immigration as the source of a more “interesting” and “cosmopolitan” society, delightful to sophisticated Londoners, as if it were the government’s job to create such pleasures. He stated that there were economic reasons for immigration, but that government ministers were “passionately in favour of a more diverse society. . . . I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended — even if this wasn't its main purpose — to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date.”

Another way to think of a “diverse culture” is a segregated society, one that has different rules for different people.

The problem then was that many of these new immigrants didn’t adopt the English culture of individuality. They held onto a culture that embraces subservience, as exemplified (but hardly exhausted) by burqas and Sharia law.

How can you have a single culture that is diverse in this way? “Culture” is another way of saying “social group,” which is governed by social rules. Another way to think of a “diverse culture” is a segregated society, one that has different rules for different people. Sharia law would apply to Muslim people, who would be further divided into Sunni and Shiite people. The Ten Commandments and kosher laws would be enforced on Jewish people. Christian people would be divided into Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, and all the other denominations of Christianity, each with its own legally recognized rules. Polygamy would be legal for Mormon people but not for Catholic people. In short, a fully diverse culture would be analogous to a group of not-necessarily friendly tribes living in the same area, similar to the way in which Native Americans used to live on nearby but separate reservations in Oklahoma when it was called the Indian Territory. They were called, very accurately, the nations.

A segregated society is not one society, with variations, which is what the average person thinks of when they think of “diversity.” As the Supreme Court said in Brown v. Board of Education, “Separate is not equal.” This is why I think our desired diversity should be defined as diversity of background, not diversity of overarching rules. We have many different ancestors, religions, orientations, and physical characteristics, but we have a common set of social rules. Our shared social rules should center on our individuality, not on our backgrounds. Each of us individually has the right to do or not do whatever we want, as long as we are not imposing our wishes on others, or getting the government to do so, which is often what “multiculturalism” means. In other words, laws that restrict our liberty should be placed at the minimum, whoever we are.




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Repeal and Replace the Democratic Party

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In my previous essay, I made a suggestion that would once have been unthinkable. I said that the country would be better off if the Democratic Party were bumped down to minor league status and replaced on the top tier by the Libertarian Party.

Since then, I’ve taken an informal poll of the people in my social sphere. Almost unanimously, the Republicans think it’s a fine idea. I doubt that this comes as any bigger surprise to our readers than it has to me. What would have been surprising to Americans just a few short years ago is that even an overwhelming number of the independents I polled also expressed a desire to see this big shift happen. Independents now outnumber those in either “major” party by a significant margin. Almost nobody who isn’t a Democrat can stand the donkey party anymore. That a huge swath of the population at least hates the GOP less than the Democrats became evident this past November.

I was almost tempted to peek out my window at the night sky to see if the planets were in some weird new alignment.

Even some Democrats can’t stand the Democratic Party. As I was writing my notes for this essay, I was talking on the phone with a very liberal friend who lamented his party’s takeover by the blowhards, crybabies, and troublemakers of the social justice warrior set. He actually spoke favorably of a novella by Ayn Rand. I was almost tempted to peek out my window at the night sky to see if the planets were in some weird new alignment. The political planets are realigning, indeed.

My reasons for hoping that a realignment might happen go beyond simply wanting big-league status for the Libertarians. Though I was a Democrat for most of my adult life, I have since moved considerably to the right. Despite the buffooneries of the GOP, it is the “major” party to which I’m ideologically closer. A rivalry between that party and ours would likely do less harm to the country than the current rivalry between it and the Democrats.

A good friend in our local chapter of the gay organization Outright Libertarians appears to see himself as something of an evangelist to the Left. He toils mightily to persuade his fellow progressives to love liberty. I wish him a lot of luck, but for the sake of my mental health, I had to abandon that mission. I’m afraid it’s a lost cause, because most leftists strike me as impervious to reason. When they lose an argument (and against us, this happens constantly), they tend to be as petulant and abusive as three-year-olds being dragged away from the toy aisle at Target.

A very large part of the reason I left the Left was that I felt it had become a fraud.

What would a big-league rivalry between Libertarians and Republicans look like? Quite contrary to my Outright friend, I would hate to see our party become a standard-bearer for the Left. But I think the dynamics of the American political scene would drastically change. Very likely the entire left-right paradigm would be shaken apart. Instead, the conflict would probably be between liberty and authority.

Would a head-to-head match between Libertarians and Republicans improve the GOP, or bring out the worst in it? I don’t claim to know. It might be taken over by the neocons, theocons, and crony capitalists to a far greater degree than it already has been. Or it could possibly be motivated to lay down the weapon of government force and engage us in the arena of ideas. Most likely it would have the former effect on some and the latter on others.

As far as I have traveled from the statist left, I still care about some of the causes it claims to espouse. I’m a woman, a bisexual, and a member of the working class, so I have a stake in several of those groups’ concerns. A very large part of the reason I left the Left was that I felt it had become a fraud. Progressives used to say that the end justified the means — now they very much appear to see the means as an end in themselves.

The Libertarian Party might change the game. If the game were played by our rules, perhaps the American people would finally win.

They push people around, threaten them, deceive them, steal from them, and try to shut them up for the sake of their supposedly holy causes; and they do these things simply because they can. In fact, they give every indication that doing them is far more important than achieving the objectives for whose sake they’re allegedly being done. To much of the Left, making noise and trouble has become a bigger priority than making sense. The only genuine good they ever did was to persuade people that their causes were right and just. Now, however, they’ve given up on making sense, thereby abandoning nearly all attempts at rational persuasion.

And Democrats bring out the worst in Republicans. As the latter become more like the former, they increasingly see their scheming, lying, self-indulgently emoting identity politicking and moral panicking as necessary. These grievous faults — in which so much of the statist impulse is rooted — are rationalized as merely the rules of the game. The Libertarian Party might change the game. We operate by a completely different set of rules, and if the game were played by our rules, perhaps the American people would finally win.

Conservatives talk as if all that’s needed to save the country is a complete repeal of progressivism. Obamacare — the Left’s prized pet, which has morphed into a monster — certainly should be repealed, and with no replacement. But I believe there are certain crucial tasks conservatives simply cannot perform. Every healthy society must have progressives as well as conservatives, just as every functioning vehicle needs both a gas pedal and a brake. Under the proper conditions, those motivated to advocate what once were considered progressive causes might arise in both parties, and many former independents might very well choose to join them.

Instead of being reduced to political footballs, issues could then be debated on their own merits. Reason might take the place of aggression. Even if the lion can’t be persuaded to lie down with the lamb, perhaps it can be kept from killing it.


Editor's Note: The author is interested in hearing readers' comments, after which she will continue this essay in a second part.



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Bureaucratic Precision

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This must be right. The EU's translation budget is hundreds of millions a year.




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The Matlock Moment

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METV recently showed an episode from the old television series Matlock in which the eponymous hero is delivering a closing address to a jury in a murder case. He says, in words somewhat similar to the following: “Not only is my client not guilty of murder, but the alleged victim is still alive, and is about to walk through that doorway and into this courtroom!” All eyes turn expectantly to the door — through which, eventually, enters a quite different person. There is a general sigh of disappointment, and Matlock turns back to the jury. “The person who came through that door is not, of course, the alleged murder victim. But the fact that you turned to the door in full expectation that the victim was alive and about to enter indicates plainly that you have a reasonable doubt a murder occurred!” The jury acquits his client.

Sometimes, merely to make a seemingly outrageous claim is enough to show that the claim is credible and that most people are already prepared to believe it.

Then came the now-predictable, hopelessly muddled statements by Obama officials.

I don’t know whether Donald Trump began his political career with an understanding of that principle, but he has certainly put it to good use. He said that Hillary Clinton belonged in jail, and the nation responded with a general feeling that, well, yes, we believe she does. He said that Barack Obama was a disastrous president, and the nation said to itself, “Yes, I already knew he was nothing but talk.” Then, on March 4, Trump said that Obama had been spying on him, and the reaction was far from the media-anticipated, “Now he’s done it. Now everybody can see that he’s crazy.” People in general were quite willing to believe that Obama, or his administration, would naturally have been tapping Trump’s phone, reading his emails, or whatever it was that Trump was suggesting.

Some people continue to demand that Trump prove his claim. The media instantly asserted that the claim could not be proven, that nothing of the kind could even conceivably have happened. Consumers of the media’s own claim were not supposed to have noticed the media’s own, fairly constant, retailing of secret information about Trump — information that must have come from some unfriendly government source. On January 20 the front page of the New York Times had exulted in the alleged fact, certainly leaked to it by people in US intelligence agencies, that said agencies had carried out or were carrying out a program of wiretapping (“intercepted communications”) against Trump or his associates or both. This alone made Trump’s charge seem plausible.

One of the least welcome surprises in the past year has been the extent to which elite opinion has become not merely acquiescent but brazenly complicit in government by intelligence spooks.

Then came the now-predictable, hopelessly muddled statements by Obama officials, and something more important: the realization that, by recent edict of Obama, 17 US intelligence agencies are now able to share “intercepted” or invented information, one with the other, thereby greatly increasing the possibility of leaks, harassment, blackmail, and whatever else any one of them may want to inflict on any US citizen against whom secret investigations have been undertaken. Seventeen times the 16 other agencies is 272. Obama’s action made it 272 times more likely that someone would leak, harass, or blackmail under the succeeding regime than under his own.

Many things about the past year in politics have left my mouth open in amazement. One of the least welcome surprises has been the extent to which elite opinion has become not merely acquiescent but brazenly complicit in government by intelligence spooks, now called “the intelligence community.” People who loudly lamented the activities of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and refused to believe even its most plausible findings now encourage the kind of behavior by which secret agents attempt to control political events — the commissioning of investigations by political hacks, the initiation of investigations that result in nothing except intimidation and implied disgrace, the provision of group statements that cannot be tested for truth because they are based on secret information, and the relentless leaking of information or surmise to a partisan public press.

One doesn’t have to possess any love for conspiracy theories to sense a bad smell coming from the back room of the republic. Now that Trump has announced, in his dumb, clunky way, that he smells it too, maybe someone will open the door and find out exactly who is trying to control this country.




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Robert Osborne, R.I.P.

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Robert Osborne (1932–2017), who died on March 6, started out as an aspiring young gay actor, whose talent was not equal to his aspiration. His acting career fizzled. But his enthusiasm for the art of film turned out to be a hundred times greater than his desire to act. Acting, after all, is only one aspect of the art. He didn’t repine; he kept involved. He became a writer about film, and eventually he became the founding and continuing host of that great American institution, Turner Classic Movies, which presents movies on cable TV, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and never edits or censors them.

Osborne’s genial, knowledgeable, and above all genuine presence made him a central figure in my life and the lives of many other people. I remember sharing happy hours watching TCM with the late Ronald Hamowy, when he was ill and had difficulty leaving his house. Ronald and I watched whatever movies Osborne presented, always appreciating the way he handled his role as host and (concise) commentator. Ronald knew more about movies than I did, and consequently knew better than I how to value Robert Osborne; but over the years I learned more about film, and a lot of it came from watching Osborne and TCM. There are few things in life that are both good and available at any time. TCM is one of those things, and Osborne was largely responsible for its continuance and success.

Osborne's acting career fizzled. But his enthusiasm for the art of film turned out to be a hundred times greater than his desire to act.

Osborne was famous for his friendships with Hollywood stars, but he was no idolator or press agent. His interviews with them dwelt on serious questions of art and craft and the challenges of life, and he had a way of gently bringing people out in conversation so that pretense vanished and personality emerged. He took human weakness for granted and went beyond it, to more interesting things.

I have no idea what Osborne’s politics were, because they were irrelevant to his work. I wish I could say as much about the unequal figures who have occupied the scene at TCM during recent years, years of the mysterious illness that seems finally to have claimed Osborne’s life. He was himself a strong personality, but he never thrust the purely-Osborne forward; he was always Osborne in pursuit of the life of film.

For this I am thankful. As Auntie Mame said, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” People who don’t know the history of film are missing much of the food and most of the fun. Osborne’s mission was to issue invitations to the banquet, to inspire in others his own enthusiasm for a great art form. He was not a “legend,” as dead celebrities are always proclaimed to be. No, he was a reality.




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Immunity from “Fear” — and Criticism

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The Canadian parliament is currently discussing Motion 103. This motion, if passed, would require the government torecognize the need to “quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

The motion was placed by a Pakistani-Canadian Liberal MP, Iqra Khalid, who immigrated to Canada in 1998.

A troubling fact is that Islamic societies tend to become less liberal as they become more democratic.

Liberals and the media have been shouting that this is not a bill and will not convert into a law. It is a simple non-binding gesture of goodwill, and in their views there is nothing to worry about.

But is there not?

There is no known Islamic country that is liberal. In almost all of these societies, women and non-Muslims have a rather low status. And if the countries enjoy economic prosperity, it is generally limited to empathy-lacking elites and exists not because of value created by their people, but because of exports of natural resources. Even Turkey and Malaysia, which have so far been relatively moderate, have taken a turn towards fanaticism.

Is it inappropriate to explore, regardless of accusations of Islamaphobia that are bound to come, if there is something inherent in Islamic societies that makes their backwardness entrenched?

A troubling fact is that Islamic societies tend to become less liberal as they become more democratic. Many complain about lack of liberties, particularly of women, in the US-supported dictatorial regime in Saudi Arabia, but those who understand the area better would claim that were it to become democratic, the remaining liberties would vanish. Women would be completely locked in.

No one in Pakistan — the tyrants, the democratic rulers, or the rest of the society — appears to know what “liberty” means.

Pakistan — where Iqra Khalid was born — is an interesting case study. It keeps vacillating from military dictatorship to democracy. When they have dictatorship, women come out in droves to fight for “freedom and democracy.” When they get democracy, women get locked back in.

Failing to understand causality, the Pakistanis keep the cycle going. None of them — the tyrants, the democratic rulers, or the rest of the society — appears to know what “liberty” means. They are forever looking for something external to solve their material and, very much, their internal miseries. My rare Pakistani friends who do not like religious totalitarianism must stay completely silent, or risk being killed. They cannot expose their views even to their own family. They are not allowed to question anything whatsoever about Islam.

What distinguishes Canada from Pakistan is precisely this: freedom of speech. Iqra Khalid wants Canadians to stop questioning if there is anything wrong about Islam. Maybe there isn’t, but if I am inviting someone to come to my home permanently I see no reason not to find out whether he is bringing a biological, or in this case a cultural, virus. Khalid of course does not conceive of the idea that anything could have gone wrong with Islam. She wants to brand Canadians who question it as “Islamophobic.”

Perhaps she should reflect on why her family immigrated to Canada. So eager is she to find problems among Canadians that one may ask whether she finds no problem in her own background or culture. She herself might ask why those in Pakistan who disagree with Islam are not allowed to speak up. She might ask why people in the West are increasingly scared to discuss Islam. She might ask why it is virtually impossible to find a Muslim — including herself — who publicly considers Islam to be anything but perfect.

She evidently believes that controlling freedom of speech in Canada is a mere tweaking at the fringes, to somehow improve that country. She fails to see that the fringe of free speech is really the center of what keeps Canada from becoming a mirror image of what she left behind. She fails to see the danger that, if she gets her way, she herself may eventually be forced into a veil and packed back into her house. And it is clear that neither she nor other supporters of the Motion would entertain the question of why, if Islamic culture is really so invulnerable to criticism, they do not wish to live in an Islamic country.




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