Don’t Ask How the US Would React

ADL Rockets

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tweeted out this image with the text, “We stand in solidarity with the people of #Israel as rockets from #Hamas-controlled #Gaza rain down on them.” Okay, I understand. Of course, the ADL would stand in solidarity with the people of Israel if feather pillows were raining down on them. But there’s nothing wrong with always being on one side if that’s how you feel. Personally, I stand in solidarity with the people on both sides.

I want to answer that question, though. “What if terrorists targeted your city with rockets?” I think I can answer for America. We would overreact even more excessively than the Israelis have. We used the 9/11 attacks to fight a war with a country that had nothing to do with it, killing at least 100,000 people. I don’t think it is very helpful for Israel to ask America how it would react. We don’t have a good track record.

But I think it is very interesting that the ADL feels it needs to buy Twitter ads in this conflict. Because it is getting harder and harder for Americans to maintain their unwavering support for Israel. What we would do hardly matters. We’re a bunch of hypocrites. It doesn’t matter what we would do. We dropped two unnecessary atomic bombs on Japanese civilians. Asking us what we would do in a given situation is like asking Hannibal Lecter what he would do with a dinner guest.

It is completely wrong for Hamas to fire rockets into Israel. And I think Hamas really needs to figure out if its going to be a governing body or a terrorist group. But the fact remains that Hamas continues to be almost unbelievably impotent in their attacks. And Israel continues to be unbelievably lethal in their attacks—far more so against civilians than actual militants. And it makes me wonder if Hamas doesn’t fire its rockets just to make Israel respond in this way. If that’s the case, it’s an evil, but brilliant strategy. Because it is getting harder and harder to support the Israeli government’s reactions to these attacks.

I actually don’t take a side in this conflict. This goes right along with my 95/5 rule: 95% of the people just want to live their lives and 5% screw everything up. I stand with the 95. A bunch of them were killed in the last few days. And as usual, they were Palestinians, regardless of who started it and is ultimately to blame.

Another Libertarian Gets Trapped Talking About Practical Matters

Peter SudermanJonathan Chait wrote a really good article earlier this week, Libertarian Accidentally Shows How Obamacare Is Succeeding. It has to do with Peter Suderman’s coverage of Obamacare over the past six months at Reason Magazine. Readers here may know of Suderman, because he’s also a film “critic” who I blasted last year about his truly ignorant take on why Hollywood films are so boring, Why Screenplays Suck. It’s funny that a libertarian would complain that films suck. According to their ideology, a film’s value is completely determined by how much money it makes. But whatever. Suderman, it seems, is just as much an idiot when it comes to Obamacare.

Chait looks at five articles that Suderman wrote about Obamacare. First, he said Obamacare wasn’t going to reduce the uninsured at all. A couple days later he said, well, maybe it would reduce the uninsured a little bit, but that was all. A month later, he was scoffing about the seven million Obamacare signups on the exchanges; he said it might be two and a half. A couple weeks after that, he had bumped his number up to three million newly covered—far less than the 13 million hoped for by the administration. So a New England Journal of Medicine report recently came out and found that 20 million Americans have gotten health insurance through Obamacare. Suderman’s response, “[I]t’s too early to say exactly how many so far—only that 20 million is almost certainly an overstatement.”

The point that Chait makes explicitly is that individually, each of Suderman’s articles claim that Obamacare is failing. But looked at in series, they show that it is a great success. I’ll go further: Suderman’s article series actually provides a more positive narrative for Obamacare than any of its biggest cheerleaders. This is a typical error committed by conservatives on Obamacare especially. They have been so certain that it would be a failure that they have made continued bold claims about it. I’m sure you could do what Chait did to anyone. If I could stomach it, I’d do it to that charlatan Avik Roy.

But there is something special here: Peter Suderman is not just a conservative—he is a libertarian. Libertarians are fine if they only talk in terms of theory. “The minimum wage is bad because two people should have a right to engage in any contract they find mutually acceptable.” It’s when they talk practically that they get into trouble, “The minimum wage is bad because it will cost jobs and drive prices up!” They should know this. When I was a fellow traveler[1], I understood this. But most libertarians just can’t resist. They insist on arguing that their “principled” stand will bring about a better world, even when there is usually no evidence for that.

Why is Peter Suderman against Obamacare? Because he’s against the government doing just about anything at all. And that’s fine! But he doesn’t make that argument. He makes the argument that the law is not working and will not work. But as a libertarian, he can’t really care whether the law is working or not. His complaint is theoretical. The free market is king and will solve all our problems! I just don’t understand the need to make these practical attacks.

Of course, today he is out with his own counter argument, Did I Accidentally Prove that Obamacare Is a Success? It’s actually a shockingly bad bit of writing. Chait’s main point is that on each occasion, Suderman put the worst possible spin on what was going on. Suderman’s main complaint is that Chait didn’t quote other articles of his. But if you look at those articles, they are either pure reporting, or again, Suderman putting the worst possible spin on the data. For example, he complained that Chait didn’t include “an April 17 post noting the administration’s report that 8 million had signed up for coverage.” But in that “report,” Suderman makes the same conservative comments: not everyone is paying and we don’t know about the demographics. It might as well have been Charles Krauthammer or George Will writing.

At no time did Chait claim that Suderman was making outlandish attacks on the Obamacare news. He was just pointing out that Suderman was always painting the worst picture possible and over time that picture has gotten better and better. In a sense, it is a compliment to Suderman; it shows that he is not resistant to facts. He has an ideological ax to grind, but he isn’t such an ideologue that he refuses to look at reality. (As a counter example, look at the gold standard crowd who claim that inflation is actually really high but there is a conspiracy to prevent us from knowing about it.)

I, of course, have a much worse view of Suderman. I still have a certain fondness for libertarians. They are not paleoconservatives. But I have a problem with Suderman because I know that it doesn’t matter what happens, he will always hate Obamacare for theoretical reasons. So let’s suppose that in three years, Obamacare is a fantastic success—that there is no way to deny this. Suderman will do what libertarians always do when they can’t make a practical case: he will complain about it based on theory: the government should not take money away from one group of people to give healthcare to another group of people. And that annoys me, because it means that all the practical arguments were disingenuous. The biggest thing I still respect about what I consider real libertarians is that they are honest. Almost none of the people who call themselves libertarians are.[2]

Say it with me: “I will only make theoretical libertarian arguments because practical libertarian arguments are usually a joke.” Repeat as often as necessary.

[1] People may wonder why I continue to use the term “fellow traveler” to indicate my former libertarianism. This is because libertarianism today is very much like communism 80 years ago: it is a utopian philosophy that can never be refuted because no society can ever be completely pure. So proponents will always claim, “Well, if we just did one more thing” everything would be roses or whatever. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have a certain respect for the old communists or the new libertarians. But they are far more similar than they know.

[2] But look at that face! He looks so fresh and idealistic. It’s hard to think ill of him.

The Bill of Rights is About All Humans Not Just US Citizens

The Bill of Rights Applies to CITIZENSI saw this sign from a protest against the kids who have fled the violence in Central America. It is literally true: the Bill of Rights applies to citizens. But of course, that’s not what the sign means. It means that the Bill of Rights only applies to citizens. This is a common and totally fallacious belief.

In truth, the entire Constitution has only 22 references to “citizen” in it and they are all about who can be elected to office, who can vote, and how citizens of one state interact with citizens of another state. As for the Bill of Rights, there is no mention whatsoever of citizens in the original ten. As for the amendments, except for one, every mention has to do with voting. The one exception is the 11th Amendment that has to do with citizens of one state or country suing citizens in another state. It really has nothing to do with citizens and was about the jurisdictional reach of the Supreme Court.

If you study the thinking that powered the founding of the United States, you will see that these men did not see rights as a special case for the United States. True: that was all they had control of. And they, like all men, had their many hangups. John Adams, for example, might have thought himself above a cobbler, be he thought a lawyer of property in England deserved the same rights as he did.

This is why the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” There’s nothing in that amendment that says that a tourist must be of the “right” religion or must shut up. That’s to say nothing of a national.

I have heard this kind of thinking that the Constitution is only for citizens from conservatives for years, however. This is not only sad and disappointing, it is dangerous. Conservatives are actually more fond of the Declaration of Independence than they are the Constitution. Yet that document is even more explicit. The key sentence is, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” [My emphasis -FM] There is a strong current in the conservative movement that wants to move backwards from 1776. They want to limit rights, as though foreign people being granted rights somehow diminishes their own.

I realize that it would be too wordy to create a sign that read, “The Bill of Rights applies to CITIZENS but except for voting it also applies to EVERYONE.” But I assume the person who created that sign didn’t know this, didn’t know the history of this country, and didn’t care in a very real way, that we are a revolutionary people. And that means we are not looking out for only ourselves, but for everyone. We don’t want to form just a more perfect union, but a more perfect world. The Constitution, in its most important parts applies to all people. That is something that all fifth graders should know.

Truckin’ Away With Blind Boy Fuller

Blind Boy FullerOn this day in 1907, the great blues singer and guitarist Blind Boy Fuller was born. Among blues lovers, there is such a tendency to focus on the Mississippi Delta as to think that nothing else was going on. But as I wrote about last month, Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley, who were both thought to be from Mississippi were actually from Texas. And Fuller was from North Carolina.

He learned to play the guitar while still a kid, but had no intention of making a living at it. But in his teens he began to go blind and by the age of 20, he was completely blind. Much later in life, he learned that he had neonatal conjunctivitis. This left him no real choice. He started performing on street corners and the occasional party. His talent was such that he didn’t remain unknown for long. It was especially other professional musicians who picked up on him.

He has a pleasant enough voice, but it is his guitar playing that really stands out. He is considered a major figure in Piedmont blues, but it is probably easiest to think of his work as ragtime on the guitar. It’s the kind of playing that makes me weep with jealousy. Here is a song that doesn’t show off his great guitar playing, but it is just so much fun, I can’t help it. It is the traditional “Rag, Mama, Rag”:

“Rag, Mama, Rag” was one of the first songs that he recorded. But unlike a lot of great musicians from that time, he was well recording, eventually producing over 120 songs. Here is one that better shows off his guitar playing, “Truckin’ My Blues Away”:

Fuller had a very good career for five years, performing and recording up and down the east coast. But in 1940, he began having problems with his bladder, even having surgery for it. This forced him to stop performing and he died the following year from blood poisoning due to an infected bladder. He was only 33 years old. But he did leave a great legacy of music that enrich us to this day.

Happy birthday Blind Boy Fuller!