Saturday, October 29, 2011

Finding Believers in Liberty in the Strangest Places

The image of the military as bloodthirsty authoritarians is just vicious Leftist propaganda

Most Americans believe in liberty. Even Washington can’t stamp out the commitment to individualism and independence that burns within most people.

On my latest trip to Afghanistan I spent a lot of time with military personnel, NCO and officer alike. Some on the Left believe that the military is filled with authoritarian automatons. Nothing could be further from the truth. Members of the military are just like the rest of us—indeed, every day they see and suffer through the failings of the U.S. government’s biggest and most expensive bureaucracy.

And they think for themselves. One young enlisted driver declared himself in favor of drug legalization. Having seen the problems created by attempting to stamp out opium production and distribution in Afghanistan, he realized the best response was to take the profit out of the drug trade, and the only way to do that was to stop treating drug use as a crime.

As far as I could tell, he wasn’t a member of the Libertarian Party, devotee of Ayn Rand, or even member of the Campaign for Liberty. He simply made the logical connection between drug prohibition and drug crime. In Afghanistan, opium production funds the Taliban insurgency and government officials alike. Here, as in several Latin American nations, Washington’s “war on drugs” has had catastrophic geopolitical consequences.

At another base I met a retired military man now serving as a civilian consultant helping to train Afghans. The problem, he declared, was their lack of understanding of the importance of liberty. Afghans are fiercely independent, but the allies were supporting creation of a centralized state in Kabul. He hoped American think tanks and organizations friendly to the ideals of liberty could help promote the principles of freedom here. He quoted Charles Murray’s In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government. I don’t remember ever meeting anyone in Washington who quoted Murray’s elegant defense of a free society!

A Marine Corps captain sidled up to me at another stop and said when he heard that I worked at the Cato Institute he wanted to meet me. He was no enthusiast for big, expansive government and saw the consequences of such policies on the ground. Serving in a combat command hundreds of miles from Kabul and thousands of miles from the U.S., he declared that he was a fan of Rep. Ron Paul.

So much for the Neocons’ claim that critics of the warfare state are anti-military and anti-military personnel.

None of this surprised me. My father was career Air Force, so I grew up on military bases around the world. Many other family members and friends serve in or were in the military. Through my policy work I meet a lot of the upper ranks, while excursions like my trip to Afghanistan bring me into contact with members of the enlisted force, the backbone of the U.S. military. I’ve found service personnel to be a uniformly impressive lot, independent thinkers with no illusions about the efficiency of their own institution or the judgment of the politicians who send them off to war.

The fact that members of the military need little prodding to support political freedom should remind us to promote the principles of liberty to everyone everywhere. No one is beyond liberty’s reach. Often those in the most flawed government institutions have the best understanding of the benefits of freedom and failures of bureaucracy. And despite its best efforts, the government has never been able to destroy people’s innate desire for liberty.

Equally important, we should remember that the principles of limited government, including a restrained, defensive foreign policy, are for everyone, including those serving in government bureaucracies. Most people join the military to defend their nation, not to fight unnecessary wars like Iraq and Afghanistan. However, that doesn’t stop politicians from sending personnel into harm’s way for no good reason. Limiting government intervention would benefit all of us, from Americans at home who pay the bills to military personnel abroad who do the fighting (and dying).

Indeed, the latter is one of the main arguments for international restraint. There are a lot of ivory tower hawks in Washington, warrior wannabes prepared to fight to the last volunteer in an attempt to transform the rest of the world. A policy of empire inevitably treats military personnel as dispensable, a replaceable means to one or another glorious end.

Afghanistan is a good example of the sheer madness of American foreign policy. There was a strong argument for targeting al-Qaeda and ousting the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11. There is a plausible argument today for trying to tailor a speedy withdrawal to maximize the chance, however small, that a liberal, democratic system might evolve in Afghanistan.

But what conceivable argument was there for ever moving from immediate retaliation to long-term nation-building?

In a decade of fighting nearly 2000 Americans and 1000 coalition personnel have died. Thousands more have been wounded, many severely. The U.S. has spent more than $464 billion on the Afghan war. Vast bases have risen out of nothing in nowhere to be filled with runways, offices, fences, barracks, supplies, chow halls, vehicles, guns, and people. Operations consume oceans of fuel and break down equipment. Money flows to train and equip the Afghan security forces. And Americans will continue to pay for the war for decades to come, caring for service personnel who have suffered debilitating injuries.

Not just the fighting is costly. Since counter-insurgency operations are based on winning support from the population, the U.S. government is dedicated to utterly transforming an impoverished rural and tribal society. The Pentagon, not to mention civilian “aid” agencies, is supporting better governance, freer elections, and expanded education of girls; underwriting construction of additional schools, hospitals, roads, electricity projects, paying to train police and “build capacity” in the Afghan government, and even helping to expand cell phone coverage and internet access. Worthy endeavors all, but matters for America’s Department of Defense?

Indeed, “Transition” is all the rage. Allied troops are supposed to come out by 2014, but the respective governments insist that the “international community” must remain involved for as long as necessary. That means more equipment, training, advice, mentoring, and money, lots of money. At least until Afghanistan is able to pay the costs, which essentially means the U.S. and Europeans will be writing checks forever.

This from heavily indebted states running deficits today and facing huge financial challenges tomorrow.

Even if a competent, honest, effective government ultimately arises in Kabul, which today looks to be the stuff of fantasy, Afghanistan should be America’s last nation-building venture. Afghans have faced far more than their share of tragedy after more than three decades at war, but there is little reason to believe that the coalition can deliver permanent peace, prosperity, and modernity no matter how much it spends. America does not have the resources to engage in social engineering in the many other poor, war-torn nations around the globe. It isn’t in the interest of Americans generally. It certainly isn’t in the interest of members of the military.

Liberty is the most important political end. There are other, higher human ends. But liberty allows us to pursue our ultimate purpose. No matter who or where we are.



More Leftist disconnection from reality

Biden's audience whooped and applauded last week in Flint when he said that without Obama's jobs bill, police will be "outgunned and outmanned." (Wild applause!)

I suppose liberals would claim they were applauding because they believe Obama's jobs bill will prevent these murders. Which reminds me: Republicans believe the death penalty prevents murders! Which belief bears more relationship to reality?

In a case I have previously mentioned, Kenneth McDuff was released from death row soon after the Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in 1972 and went on to murder more than a dozen people.

William Jordan and Anthony Prevatte were sentenced to death in 1974 for abducting a teacher, murdering him and stealing his car. They came under suspicion when they were caught throwing the murder weapon from the stolen vehicle in a high-speed car chase with the cops and because they were in possession of the dead man's wallet, briefcase and watch.

The Georgia Supreme Court overturned their capital sentences in an opinion by Robert H. Hall, who was appointed by Gov. Jimmy Carter.

Hall said that the death sentences had to be set aside on the idiotic grounds that the jurors had overheard the prosecutor say that the judge and state supreme court would have the opportunity to review a death sentence, which might have caused them to take their sentencing role less seriously.

(If the facts had been the reverse, the court would have overturned the death sentences on the grounds that the jurors did not take their sentencing decision seriously, under the misapprehension that no judge or court would second-guess them.)

Prevatte was later released from "life in prison" and proceeded to murder his girlfriend. Jordan escaped and has never been found.

As president, Carter appointed Hall to a federal district court.

Darryl Kemp was sentenced to death in California in 1960 for the rape and murder of Marjorie Hipperson and also convicted for raping two other women. But he sat on death row long enough -- 12 years -- for the death penalty to be declared unconstitutional. He was paroled five years later and, within four months, had raped and murdered Armida Wiltsey, a 40-year-old wife and mother.

Kemp wasn't caught at the time, so he spent the next quarter-century raping (and probably murdering) a string of women. In 2002, his DNA was matched to blood found on the fingernails of Wiltsey's dead body. Although Kemp was serving a "life sentence" for rape in a Texas prison, he was months away from being paroled when he was brought back to California for the murder of Wiltsey.

His attorney argued that he was too old for the death penalty. He lost that argument, and in 2009, Kemp was again given a capital sentence. He now sits on death row, perhaps long enough for the death penalty to be declared unconstitutional again, so he can be released to commit more rapes and murders.

Dozens and dozens of prisoners released from death row have gone on to murder again. No one knows exactly how many, but it's a lot more than the number of innocent men who have been executed in America, which, at least since 1950, is zero.

What is liberals' evidence that there will be more rapes and murders if Obama's jobs bill doesn't pass? Biden claims that, without it, there won't be enough cops to interrupt a woman being raped in her own home -- which would be an amazing bit of police work/psychic talent, if it had ever happened. (That's why Americans like guns, liberals.)

Obama's jobs bill tackles the problem of rape and murder by giving the states $30 billion ... for public school teachers.

Only $5 billion is even allotted to the police, but all we keep hearing about are the rapes and murders that Democrats are suddenly against (as long as being "against" rape and murder means funding public school teachers and not imprisoning or executing rapists and murderers).

Finally, did Flint use any money from Obama's last trillion-dollar stimulus bill to hire more police in order to prevent rape and murder? No, Flint spent its $2.2 million from the first stimulus bill on buying two electric buses.

Even if what Flint really needed was buses and not cops, for $2.2 million, the city could have bought seven brand-new diesel buses and had $100,000 left over for streetlights.

Rather than reducing the rate of rape and murder, blowing money on "green" buses is likely to increase crime, since people will be forced to spend a lot more time waiting at bus stops for those two buses.

It's going to be a long wait: The "green" buses were never delivered because the company went out of business -- despite a $1.6 million loan from the American taxpayer.

But if I were a liberal, I wouldn't acknowledge these facts, or any facts. I would close my eyes, cover my ears, demand that MSNBC fire Pat Buchanan and the FCC pull the plug on Fox, and pretend to believe that taxpayer-funded "green" projects and an ever-increasing supply of public school teachers were the only things that separated us from Armageddon.



Pay no attention to the inflation behind the curtain

According to legend, in Czarist Russia, Grigory Potemkin constructed fake villages to make Catherine the Great believe that the countryside was tranquil and prosperous, when in fact it was chaotic and stricken with poverty.

Such it is with government economic statistics, as evidenced by the latest release of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) showing a 2.5 percent increase for the third quarter of 2011. “U.S. Economic Growth Accelerates,” blared one media headline. “Economy expands 2.5 percent in the third quarter,” heralded another.

But below the headlines, one finds the spin. The Bureau of Economic Analysis claimed the increase “primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures”.

To be certain, consumption increased by $127.4 billion out of the $185 billion increase, a peak behind the numbers finds that only $10.1 billion was for durable goods. $28.9 billion was for non-durable goods: $8.1 billion was increased gas and energy consumption, $9.6 billion for food and beverages, and $3.1 billion for clothing.

The lack of increased good purchases is also indicated by the $24.3 billion shrinking trade deficit. While exports increased $31.6 billion, imports only increased by $7.3 billion. Slower imports indicates slowing consumer spending on actual goods, not accelerating.

Another portion of the increase was $88.4 billion for services. But, again, the increases come in necessities: $25.2 billion for housing and utilities, $31.2 billion for health care, $11.5 billion for food services and accommodations, and $6.7 billion for financial services and insurance.

With existing home sales taking a plunge and prices flat to falling, the increase for “housing and utilities” can largely be attributed to the increased cost of utilities. The same can be said for the $8.1 billion increase for gas and energy, and the overall $21 billion increase for food and food services. In short, prices are increasing.

Other data bears this out. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is up 3.9 percent at an annualized rate overall for all items, including food by 4.7 percent and energy by 19.3 percent. If one takes out food and energy, the CPI is only growing annualized by 2 percent.

As for producer prices, those have been way up, too, growing at an annualized rate of 6.9 percent in September — it was 7 percent and 6.5 percent in July and August, respectively. All of which accounts for the $46.1 billion increase for equipment purchases.

Meanwhile, when government reports “core” inflation, they leave out food and energy price increases, and as a result, when it reports GDP it leaves those numbers in. This results in prices appearing to be relatively “stable” while the economy is “growing,” when in fact, prices are fluctuating and growth is slowing.

That is the real story behind the numbers that will go underreported in the mainstream media. This is not growth accelerating at all. It’s inflation.

America’s equivalent of the Potemkin Village was L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” tale criticizing monetary policy, in which famously the “Wizard” urges Dorothy and her friends to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

True to form, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is probably hoping nobody peaks behind the GDP press release curtain.



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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