State of the Union

How America Can Deal With Militant Islam

“I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people,” said Edmund Burke of the rebellious Americans.

The same holds true of Islam, the majority faith of 49 nations from Morocco to Indonesia, a religion that 1.6 billion people profess.

Yet, some assertions appear true.

Islam is growing in militancy and intolerance, evolving again into a fighting faith, and spreading not only through proselytizing, but violence.

How to justify the charge of intolerance?

The Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas. The Sufi shrines of Timbuktu were blown up by Ansar Dine. In Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, Christian converts face the death sentence.

In Nigeria, the Boko Haram attacks churches and kills Christians, as in Ethiopia and the Sudan, where the south seceded over the persecution.

Egyptian Copts are under siege. Assyrian and Chaldean Christians in Iraq have seen churches pillaged, priests murdered. In Indonesia, churches are being shut on the demand of Islamists. Sharia law is being demanded by militants across the Middle East, as Christianity is exterminated in its cradle.

Has Islam become again a fighting faith? Read More…

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Harry Reid Is Seeing Anarchists: ‘Government is Inherently Good’

“When I was in school, I studied government and I learned about the anarchists. Now, they were different than the Tea Party because they were violent. But they were anarchists because they did not believe in government in any level and they acknowledged it. The Tea Party kind of hides that. They don’t say ‘we’re against government’; that’s what it all amounts to. They’re not doing physically destructive things to buildings and people, directly; but they are doing everything they can to throw a monkey wrench into any form of government — whether it’s local, whether it’s state, or federal government. That’s what it’s all about.”

Of course, most people will interpret this as a slur against the Tea Party. But it’s also a slur against anarchists, most of whom are quite peaceful. As Bill Kauffman explains in his entry for anarchism in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia:

Perhaps no political term is quite so misunderstood as “anarchy.” In the popular press, it is a synonym for disorder and chaos, not to mention looting and pillage: countries like Haiti are always being “plunged into anarchy.” The anarchist, meanwhile, is frozen into a late-nineteenth-century caricature: he is furtive, hirsute, beady-eyed, given to gesticulation, gibberish, and, most of all, pointless acts of violence. Yet anarchy, according to most of its proponents through the years, is peaceable, wholly voluntary, and perhaps a bit utopian. The word means “without a ruler”; anarchy is defined as the absence of a state and its attendant coercive powers. It implies nothing about social arrangements, family and sexual life, or religion; and in fact the most persuasive anarchists, from Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy to Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, have been Christians.

… echoes of native anarchism may be heard throughout American history: in the warnings of the Anti-Federalists about the centralizing thrust of the new Constitution; in the Garrisonian abolitionists who reviled any government that countenanced slavery; in the Populists of the 1890s, with their attacks on chartered corporations and paper wealth; in the Old Right of the 1930s, which saw the New Deal as potentially totalitarian; in the New Left of the 1960s, which denounced the military, the university, and the corporation as dehumanizing; and among contemporary libertarians, especially those influenced by the economist and anti- imperialist Murray N. Rothbard. But except for the anarchist-tinged Industrial Workers of the World, the radical labor union that reached its zenith in the early twentieth century, anarchists have never been adept organizers. For the most part anarchy in the United States has been a literary-political tendency.

So take heart, Tea Party, and don’t be too offended by the senate majority leader. He’s really saying you’re part of a proud American tradition. A tradition that someone who says “government is inherently good” is unlikely to ever understand.

(h/t United Liberty)

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The People Who Want to Torture Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The Donald:

New York State Senator Greg Ball, the one who’s been getting all the attention for his tweeted call for torture. Hannity had him on, where he proceeded to say his view on torturing a wounded 19 year-old suspect was “from my heart.”:

Fox News host Eric Bolling:

“My dream of real justice would be a July 4 celebration of stringing this son-of-a-b-tch up in the Boston Common and letting the crows pick on his rotting flesh,” says Ted Nugent after complaining that it’s taking too long to bring him to trial, though he doesn’t specifically mention torture.

There were plenty of people calling for this and worse on the internet. But in one capacity or another, all of the above are considered leaders in the GOP or conservative movement. Maybe Fred Barnes is right about Bush being back in style.

Needless to say, all of them should have known that at this point there’s no reason to suspect that Dzokhar had any connection to terrorist groups beyond reading their propaganda. It’s also probably safe to assume none of them read the Constitution Project’s new report on torture, which Phil Giraldi explains here.

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How Drone Strikes Strengthen al-Qaeda

Earlier this week, Yemeni citizen Farea al-Muslimi testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights about the effect U.S. drone strikes have had in his country. “The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yeminis,” he warns:

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Raimondo vs. Rauch: The Marriage Debate You Haven’t Heard Before

With Straussian eminence Walter Berns in attendance—he asks the final question—Jonathan Rauch and Justin Raimondo debate “Is Gay Marriage Good for America?” for American University’s Janus Forum.

Rauch frames his pro-SSM argument as socially conservative, a “Burkean social fabric thing,” in the words of one audience member. Raimondo has a radical libertarian counterblast to that, and he notes the irony that while genetic determinism is frowned upon in discussions of race or sex, it’s invoked as a source of authority by those who argue for same-sex marriage. He calls it “pseudo-science mixed with moralism” and latter-day “Lysenkoism.” Rauch is concerned to protect religious liberties, while Raimondo, foreseeing dire consequences for Christians who refuse to accept a new definition of marriage, warns that “people who are oppressed inevitably turn into the worst bullies” once they have government power on their side.

It’s a debate unlike any other on this issue, inspired in part by Raimondo’s TAC article “The Libertarian Case Against Gay Marriage.”

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Mild Nepotism and the Illusion of Meritocracy

What do I have to do to get a review in The New York Times? More than a few frustrated authors have asked this question, posing it in some cases to their agents and and in others to a tumbler of whisky. There may be no a single answer. But it certainly helps to have famous name and the connections that often go along with it.

Even so, the extent of the coverage recently devoted to Nathaniel Rich has drawn attention. According to The Times‘s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan:

It’s beginning to feel like Nathaniel Rich Month at The Times. The author’s new novel was reviewed in the Arts section on April 10, then again in the Sunday Book Review on April 14. Mr. Rich also wrote an essay for the Sunday Book Review, with many references to that novel, “Odds Against Tomorrow.” In addition, the Editors’ Choice section of the Sunday Book Review listed Mr. Rich’s novel second on its list.

Back in January, Mr. Rich and his brother were also the subjects of a feature story about literary families. (His father is Frank Rich, the former Times columnist; his mother is Gail Winston, an executive editor at HarperCollins; his brother is a comedy writer, a novelist and a regular contributor to The New Yorker.)

This looks like a obvious case of nepotism. Tom Scocca explains, however, that there’s something more subtle and interesting going on. Rich’s book may be good (I haven’t read it). And, as the profile makes clear, he has evidently worked hard at his craft. But that’s not enough to explain Rich’s unusual success:

Relationships and knowledge are what the writing-and-culture business runs on. Some of it is cultural capital—knowing what to do and how to do it. Frank Rich’s children were exposed, at an early age, to the actual specific process of professional writing: deadlines, pitches, writing to length. Jewelers raise jewelers; plumbers raise plumbers. Cal Ripken Sr. and Bobby Bonds brought up their children around professional baseball. Johann Sebastian Bach produced musicians.

But some of it is social capital—who you know, and what they can do for you. People look out for the interests of people they know, even without anyone picking up a phone and telling them to. Disclosure: I was going to write about the profile of the Rich brothers when it first came out, for somewhere other than Gawker, but that place revoked the assignment because it didn’t want to be potentially unkind to Nathaniel Rich.

This isn’t the explicit favoritism of the old-fashioned Establishment, which often reward  pedigree rather than competence. Instead, it’s a very contemporary form of advantage that coexists with the meritocratic principles of the new elite. Under this regime, rewards are available for “achievers” of any background. But it just so happens that the children of people who are already successful know how to achieve the most–and whom to inform of their accomplishments.

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville coined the term “mild despotism” to describe the tutelary state that might replace monarchical tyranny. By the same token, we might describe as “mild nepotism” the informal networks of privilege that have replaced formal aristocracy.

Mild nepotism would not be a big deal if it were confined to publishing. But it’s also a fact of life in finance, academia, and the upper reaches of the legal world. These fields are open, in principle, to all. In practice, however, they are dominated by those who have been outfitted since childhood with the skills and contacts they’ll need to do well in the right schools, find the right jobs, and, when the time comes, to welcome others very much like themselves inside the magic circle.

It must be understood that all this will happen without any intention to play favorites. It’s only that there are so many impressive applications to consider, so many qualified candidates to interview, so many fine books to review. And unfortunately there’s space for just one…

We can acknowledge the reality of mild nepotism without endorsing coercive measures to end it. As Hayek argued, it would require a despotism of truly terrifying proportions to eliminate the cognitive, cultural, and social inequalities that emerge in any free society. But the attention lavished on Nathaniel Rich by The New York Times is an amusing and therefore useful reminder of the way that meritocracy functions as the legitimating myth of the modern ruling class. Do you think The New Yorker would run a piece on that? Can you give me the number of your friend who works there?


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Gay Germ Censorship

The notion of a Gay Germ—homosexuality transmitted as some sort of infection—probably horrifies many mainstream intellectuals unfamiliar with the details of modern evolutionary biology.  Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that my recent column discussing that subject quickly provoked a striking example of Internet censorship.  But the circumstances were different than people might naively expect.

Most of the responses to my analysis were quite reasonable and respectful.  Anthropologist Peter Frost published a column questioning some of my arguments, which generated an extended comment thread.  George Mason University’s Genetic Literacy Project also provided a brief summary and link.

However, a target of my critique had been Dr. Gregory Cochran, a leading Gay Germ advocate, who had recently ridiculed the intelligence of my old professor E.O. Wilson for remarks supporting the contrary Gay Gene hypothesis.  I merely pointed out that to the extent powerful selective pressures would have weeded out any hypothetical Gay Gene, exactly those same selective pressures would have tended to remove susceptibility to a Gay Germ as well, so that to a considerable extent the two theories suffered from similar theoretical weaknesses and were not so obviously distinct.

Now Cochran is a notoriously arrogant and irascible researcher, and he reacted to my views by launching a blistering attack on his own blogsite, sharply questioning my intellect and knowledge.  Moreover, when I showed up to explicate my analysis as a commenter, he quickly banned me, possibly because I was defending my position a bit too well, and perhaps thereby “confusing” his coterie of worshipful fanboys.  My impression is that publishing a lengthy blog attack against someone and then banning the victim when he politely attempts to provide his own side of the argument is considered “bad form” on the Internet, but there are obviously individuals for whom these usual rules do not apply. Read More…

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Chechens and American Hawks, an Interesting Alliance

In an important column, Justin Raimondo explores further the Chechen connection, which is not only the path to the older Tsarnaev brother’s radicalization but a Cold War leftover inside the Beltway and a cause dear to many neoconservatives. Because the Chechens are anti-Russian, they have many friends in Washington. Enough perhaps to influence the FBI to take Russian warnings of Tamarlan Tsarnaev’s terrorist connections with a grain of salt.

Raimondo:

The problem is that the Chechen “freedom fighters” are US allies, along with their ideological compatriots in Libya and Syria. When the Chechen rebel “foreign minister,” Ilyas Akmadov,” applied for political asylum in the US, the Department of Homeland Security nixed the idea – but were overruled by a bipartisan coalition of political heavyweights, including Madeleine Albright, Alexander Haig, Frank Carlucci, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ted Kennedy, and John McCain. In a letter of endorsement, Albright gushed that Akhmadov is “devoted to peace, not terrorism.” McCain wrote: “I have found him to be a proponent of peace and human rights in Chechnya.”

snip

Although support for the Chechen independence movement is bipartisan, that troublesome little sect known as the neoconservatives has actively backed the Chechen cause from the get-go: an impressive list of prominent neocons, including Bill Kristol, sits on the board of the Chechens’ principal US propaganda outfit, the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (formerly the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya). According to Glen Howard, head of the Jamestown Foundation, a neocon outfit focused on Central Asia, the Chechens aren’t Islamist terrorists, they’re just cuddly “nationalists” rebelling against a Russia that has gone “fascist.” “The Russians are trying to treat Chechen separatism through the prism of 9/11 and terror rather than as a nationalist movement that has been defying Kremlin rule for 200 years,” says Howard. This analytical premise, however, doesn’t seem to apply to, say, Afghanistan.

This may explain why the FBI didn’t put Tamarlan Tsarnaev under surveillance after Russian intelligence informed them that he held six(!) meetings with a Chechen Salafist militant during his trip to Dagestan. There may well be  a lot of  opportunities for self-radicalization via the Internet for alienated young Sunni Muslims, but in this case there is also a real trail to leading to established foreign groups with a record of terrorism. The trouble seems to be that the FBI ignored it, despite specific warnings. Why?

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George W. Bush, Popular Again?

Not really, although a Washington Post-ABC poll finds 47 percent of those surveyed rate his job performance favorably. Tellingly, he doesn’t get such high marks for his performance with respect to the economy (43 percent favorable) or invading Iraq (40 percent approve). Which raises the question of what else, exactly, Bush is getting graded on. Despite the framing of the question as job approval, I suspect what comes through here is some nebulous sense that he was a nice guy—maybe a bit like Jimmy Carter. Americans aren’t always terribly attentive to what presidents are doing even while they’re in office. Once they’re out, the public’s view is not likely to be based on a more detailed policy analysis.

There is the possibility that events of the last five years have made Bush’s star shine a little brighter, relatively speaking. In Bush’s last year in office his party’s reputation was likened by retiring Rep. Tom Davis to “dog food” that ought to be taken off the shelf. Today it’s still on the shelf and isn’t any fresher after being pitched by salesmen like John McCain and Mitt Romney. Republicans have reason to be a little wistful for the Bush years. And there’s a feeling among centrists that whatever his mistakes, the party Bush led wasn’t as nasty as it has since become. Even liberals may find themselves conceding strange new respect to the man from Crawford—after all, the Democrat presently in office has in some ways governed more like his predecessor than like the president he promised on the campaign trail to become. The continuity between Dubya’s second term and Obama’s administration so far may help the Republican’s reputation more than it hurts the Democrat’s, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

But again, most of it, I suspect, is simply the unwillingness of the public to stay angry at former leaders. Forgiveness is an admirable quality—though forgetfulness certainly isn’t.


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No, Rand Paul Didn’t Just Switch His Position on Drones

In relation to the Boston Marathon bombings, Sen. Rand Paul told Fox Business today that, “If there is a killer on the loose in a neighborhood, I’m not against drones being used to search them.” He went on:

“Here’s the distinction — I have never argued against any technology being used against having an imminent threat an act of crime going on,” Paul said. “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash, I don’t care if a Drone kills him or a policeman kills him, but it’s different if they want to come fly over your hot tub, or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone, and they want to watch your activities.”

Civil libertarians are flipping out claiming Paul has reconciled himself with an omnipotent police state and forgotten all about his 13-hour filibuster, the aim of which was to clarify that the government did not have the authority to unilaterally kill American citizens. Matt Wilstein at Mediaite claims his statements “directly contradict” it, writing, “by indicating he would have made the call to kill the suspect with drone if he’d had the chance, Paul seems to have betrayed the principles of his filibuster.” He indicated no such thing.

To be fair, Paul wasn’t as clear as he should have been. It seems like he’s trying to describe a firefight in which the cops are forced to neutralize a thief robbing a liquor store, but the way he actually describes it sounds far more innocuous; he doesn’t mention the thief posing any threat. Jim Bovard takes him at his word, saying Paul “endorses using drones to kill suspected liquor store robbers.” But does anyone actually believe he’s endorsing the use of a hellfire missile to take out a thief that presents no threat? If he thought that was OK, do you think he might have allowed for it in the bill he introduced banning domestic drone strikes?

Bovard is right that there are problems with the ever-broadening definition of what constitutes an “imminent threat.” But the important thing to remember here is that any politician is unlikely to unequivocally oppose law enforcement techniques that would allow officers to do their jobs out of harm’s way, up to and including using robots to kill criminals. It seems like a lot of libertarians are opposed to any drone use by law enforcement. While I can’t fault them on principle, it seems like an untenable position politically, and anyway that ship has sailed.

The senator has always been open to the idea of drones being used, with a warrant, in the process of a police investigation. And, as a practical matter, if that could have meant, say, a hundred fewer Boston doors knocked on by SWAT teams, isn’t that a net victory for civil liberties? The bit about armed drones, “I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him,” is a tad more strongly worded than prior statements but by no means new. Last summer he responded to a question about armed drones this way:

Costello: What about in this instance? One Texas sheriff told reporters his agency is considering arming his drones with rubber bullets and tear gas. Let’s say there’s a large crowd gathering and you need some crowd control. This type of drone might be able to diminish any problems on the ground. Would that be allowed under your bill?

Paul: Anything that would require a warrant. It would have to have a warrant. And I’m concerned about obviously arming drones. But I don’t want to say that I’m arguing against technology. For example, there’s a bomb in a car, I’m very happy that we have automated robots that can go up to the car and investigate the bomb and we don’t have to risk a human. Same with drones. If they can save lives, that’d be one thing. Arming drones obviously sends up pictures of the military and I don’t think domestically armed drones are a good idea. What I would say is that drones could be used if you have a proper warrant. But that means you go through a judge.

For better or worse, the senator has been consistent in his thinking.

Update: Senator Paul has released a statement saying his “comments last night left the mistaken impression that my position on drones had changed.”

Here’s the rest:

“Let me be clear: it has not. Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations. They only may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing, imminent threat. I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster.

“Additionally, surveillance drones should only be used with warrants and specific targets.

“Fighting terrorism and capturing terrorists must be done while preserving our constitutional protections. This was demonstrated last week in Boston. As we all seek to prevent future tragedies, we must continue to bear this in mind.”

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