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“Compassionate Paleolibertarianism”: Rand Paul Offers Free Eye Exam With Deportation

Not long ago, Rand Paul appeared at a fund-raiser for full-time immigration hawk and occasional racist Steve King, where he found himself uncomfortably close to a young Mexican immigrant, causing him to panic and flee. Now Paul tells Breitbart News he supports the House bill that would end President Obama’s policy of granting relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children.

As Sam Stein points out, Paul has been telling Republicans they need to reach out to nonwhite voters and show them they care. In an odd bit of timing, Paul’s endorsement of draconian immigration policy coincides with his trip to Guatemala to perform free eye surgery. It was just Rand Paul and some Guatemalans who need medical care. Plus a wee entourage consisting of “three television cameras, three photographers, six reporters, a political aide, two press secretaries, [and] conservative activist David Bossie.” Basically, your standard medical crew, in other words. You could risk getting medical treatment without the director of such films as Battle for America (starring Dick Morris) standing by, but why risk it?

One might detect a dissonance between Paul’s warm-and-fuzzy medical mission and his hard-line stance toward Dreamers. But it actually fits together quite sensibly. The 2016 hopeful opposes universal health insurance, and he wants to deport half a million people who grew up in America. But Rand Paul will personally provide every deported immigrant with a free eye exam. Call it compassionate paleolibertarianism.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, August 22, 2014

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Deportation, Immigrants, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Please Shoot Me”: Police Are Entirely Committed To The Logic Of Deterrence, While Ignoring The Costs Of Escalation

In the first part of VICE News’s extraordinary five-part documentary on ISIS, released earlier this month, a bearded and strangely innocent-looking young press officer who goes by the name Abu Mosa invites America to attack his movement. “I say to America that the Islamic Caliphate has been established, and we will not stop,” Abu Mosa says with a shy smile, a Kalashnikov leaning easily in his right hand. “Don’t be cowards and attack us with drones. Instead send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.”

America has since begun attacking ISIS with air and drone strikes, and on Wednesday, in response to the beheading of James Foley, a photojournalist, Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to the fight. But the president has not obliged Abu Mosa’s wish for America to send in ground forces. For one thing, the airstrikes seem to have been reasonably successful in attaining the limited American goal of aiding Kurdish forces to recapture territory from ISIS. Inserting ground troops risks subjecting American forces to casualties and mission creep. In the video of Mr Foley’s death, his ISIS executioner threatens to kill another hostage unless America ceases its airstrikes. Mr Obama shows no signs of letting any of this affect his decisions. As a rule, it is a bad idea to let your actions in a confrontation be guided by the other guy’s provocations.

Not everyone understands this rule, though. In St Louis on Monday, two police officers responded to a report that a distraught man had stolen two cans of soda from a convenience store, and was carrying a steak knife. The officers stepped out of the car and immediately drew their guns on the man, 25-year-old Kajieme Powell, ordering him to drop the knife. Mr Powell refused, and instead began vaguely walking towards them, saying “Shoot me!” The officers opened fire, killing Mr Powell just seconds after they had arrived—nine shots in all, pop-pop-pop, some fired after Mr Powell had fallen to the ground. All of this can be clearly seen on the video of the confrontation that a bystander recorded on his smartphone, released Wednesday by the St Louis police department in the apparent belief that it exonerates the officers involved.

To my eye, the notion that this video is exculpatory evidence seems absurd. A report of a disturbed man waving around a steak knife and making angry pronouncements is supposed to end with a team of police officers surrounding the offender, trying to talk him down, and, if persuasion fails, eventually subduing him and sending him in for psychiatric evaluation. Nothing suggests police officers faced an emergency requiring them to use their guns. The video convinced me only that the officers should be prosecuted, and that the St Louis police department needs to be completely overhauled, starting with its rules on the use of deadly force. Missouri should also revise its justifiable-homicide laws, which, as Yishai Schwartz explains in the New Republic, make it “almost impossible” to convict police officers who claim they acted in self-defence.

But there’s an interesting similarity here. In both of these cases, someone is provoking an attack from a more powerful actor. Why would anyone do that?

When force is used, it is often to influence or change the behaviour of a foe. The logic is that of deterrence: stop misbehaving, or we will attack you. Yet adversaries often understand that the deployment of force is not cost-free. The risk of escalation may ultimately make a conflict more costly than the initial deterrence was worth. This trade-off is a characteristic of many classic confrontations: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and so on.

In the case of ISIS, at least some elements apparently believe that luring America into a ground conflict will help them achieve their aims. For Islamic radical groups, fighting America is also great for recruitment, particularly if there is an opportunity to kill American soldiers. And if ISIS can escalate the conflict to the point where America no longer wants to bear the costs and pulls out, it will have scored a tremendous victory.

It is a bit hard to figure out what Mr Powell was trying to accomplish in St Louis, as he appears to have been mentally off-kilter, at least on that afternoon. (In a tragic moment in the video, before police arrive, a passerby advises him to back down: “That’s not the way you do it, man.”) But he was clearly trying to provoke police to shoot him, perhaps in the belief that this would illustrate the inequities of police brutality. More importantly, the police who confronted him, like police throughout the confrontations in Missouri, seem to be entirely committed to the logic of deterrence, while ignoring the costs of escalation. This is a problem of culture, of attitude, of legal impunity, and above all else of the pervasive use of firearms, which rapidly escalate minor disputes into potentially deadly confrontations. The police’s deployment of force have left two dead and a town overwhelmed by protests and riots.

In Iraq, America seems to be weighing the risks of escalation very carefully before deploying force. In Missouri, however, the police seem to be deploying force without thinking about the consequences at all. And the cost of attacking the city’s poorest and most beleaguered people is proving very high indeed.


By: Matt Steinglass, Democracy in America, August 22, 2014

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, St Louis Police Department, Terrorists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Libertarian Time Bomb”: Why ‘Going Rand’ Would Be An Electoral Disaster

The time has come again for a perennial theme in politics: the idea that Republicans should “go libertarian.” The questionable premise, forwarded most recently by Robert Draper and Emily Ekins, is that the Republican Party could sweep up millennials, who are “socially liberal” and “economically conservative,” by adopting a more libertarian message. The ascent of popular startups like Uber and Airbnb — which have about them a decidedly libertarian flavor — has only strengthened this supposedly conventional wisdom.

Here’s the thing, though. The data show that this is an unlikely possibility, but more problematically, doing so would actually decimate the Republican base. The truth is, libertarianism is antithetical to conservatism.

The Republican base, broadly speaking, is made up of five often-overlapping coalitions: business conservatives who seek low taxes and low regulation; foreign policy hawks who seek a strong defense budget; social conservatives who fear moral anarchy; racists and nativists worried about immigration and affirmative action; and elderly retirees who rely on Social Security and Medicare. This coalition is already difficult enough to maintain, but in the future it will become more difficult.

And a “libertarian” message would only further erode the base.

Business conservatives seem like they would be the most open to a libertarian message. After all, lower taxes and less regulation are amenable to both groups. But Republicans are already very pro-business and anti-regulation; to go further in order to pull in a few more libertarians would entail (1) decreased fiscal or monetary intervention, or (2) the elimination of corporate subsidies. Both of these moves would alienate business conservatives, who, after all, rely significantly on government support (to the tune of $92 billion in 2006) and accept the need for countercyclical spending policies. Libertarians might struggle to support Republicans doling out farm subsidies year after year, subsidizing exports and bailing out big businesses and banks, but business conservatives demand it.

Foreign policy hawks would also find many of the core tenets of libertarianism — skepticism of foreign interventionism, opposition to the NSA and a healthy loathing of the military-industrial complex — to be problematic. Republicans could try to peel off support among libertarians by opposing torture, closing Guantanamo and investigating the NSA, but it’s tough to believe that the party of Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld would be able to garner much trust. The swift turn of Rand Paul from libertarian anti-interventionist to foreign policy hawk attests to the difficulty in going this route.

Social conservatives would likely be the most difficult challenge to libertarians. Libertarians tend to support individual  liberty:the right to gamble, drink, smoke, watch pornography, take one’s own life, participate in any form of sexual activity and use drugs. Needless to say, these views would be incredibly problematic for the moral majority coalition, which still forms an incredibly important part of the Republican base. It was Hayek who wrote in “Why I’m Not A Conservative”: “The conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes… like the socialist he regards himself as entitled to force the values he holds onto other people.”

While it’s often considered impolite to note in public, a rather significant base of Republican power is still nativism. Witness the hysterical response to Central American refugees, the baseless claims against Obama’s citizenship, and the opposition to any immigration reform that doesn’t include a moat full of crocodiles across the border. But most libertarians are strongly supportive of open borders. Libertarian economist Bryan Caplan calls it, “The Efficient, Egalitarian, Libertarian, Utilitarian Way to Double World GDP.” In a world when even the “reasonable” Republicans are still spouting xenophobic drivel, witness Ross Douthat’s column worrying that “the bills under discussion almost always offer some form of legal status before enforcement takes effect, which promises a replay of the Reagan-era amnesty’s failure to ever deliver the limits on future immigration that it promised.”

Finally, there are the elderly retirees, whose support Republicans maintain by making sure that any spending cuts fall on the backs of the poor – not the old. One wonders how they would receive the Cato Institute plan to turn Social Security into private savings accounts subject to market forces. Many would balk if a politician called Social Security “federally mandated generational theft,” but this is how Nick Gillespie regards it. Social Security and Medicare are sacrosanct and any attempt to reform them is likely a “third rail” that would lead to electoral death for the politician that tried.

The problem with libertarianism is mainly that few people agree with its ideological assumptions — but will often come to the same political answer. But this means that most people will be “libertarian” on some issues, rather than use a libertarian mode of thinking to get there. So people may be programmatically libertarian, but ideologically disagree with fundamental assumptions. As political scientist Seth Masket writes, “Basically everyone agrees with libertarians on something, but they tend to get freaked out just as quickly by the ideology’s other stances.”

These contradictions are obvious, and Draper’s widely discussed piece touches on some of them. For instance, there is Mollie Hemingway, who claims to be a libertarian, but is anti-choice and rejects gay marriage. She argued that although “‘people should be free to organize their own lifestyle,’ the state had a unique interest in protecting heterosexual marriage, because it was ‘the relationship that’s ordered to producing children.’” She might want to turn to Ayn Rand, who argued that, “but it is improper for the law to interfere with a relationship between consenting adults” and noted that “abortion is a moral right — which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?”

Or what of Murray Rothbard’s claim that “the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.” Hemingway is a programmatic libertarian — she likes some proposals, but rejects the radical individualism libertarianism truly entails.

And those are on the issues where Republicans are supposed to agree with Libertarians. Nick Gillespie touches on the minor contradictions in an interview for Draper’s piece:

Republicans always saw libertarians as nice to have around in case they wanted to score some weed, and we always knew where there was a party. And for a while it made sense to bunk up with them. But after a while, it would be like, ‘So if we agree on limited government, how about opening the borders?’ No, that’s crazy. ‘How about legalizing drugs? How about giving gays equal rights?’ No, come on, be serious. And so I thought, There’s nothing in this for me.

He leaves some equally problematic things out: legalized prostitution, restrained foreign policy, massive defense cuts, abolishing social security and Austrian economics. None of these will curry favor with the Republican establishment. The question is not whether there are a large number of Americans who would be excited by libertarianism; the question is whether the Republicans could maintain their current coalition and also court these voters — this seems unlikely.

Then there’s the fact that Rand Paul, once an ardent libertarian, has had to step back on numerous positions. There’s the fact that Gary Johnson alienated the base and Ron Paul looked loony in 2012, opposing the Iraq War, calling for an end to the federal reserve and arguing that the government should legalize all drugs. Ronald Reagan, who successfully used libertarian rhetoric (see: A Time for Choosing) eschewed it when governing. The Republican Party has long used libertarian rhetoric while pursuing statist policies. The Mercatus Center, a libertarian think tank, ranks the 50 states based on “freedom,” but weights “tax burden” as 28.6% of the metric and “freedom from tort abuse” as 11.5%, while “civil liberties” only account for 0.6% of a state’s score and “education policy” 1.9%. In Mercatus-land, alcohol, gun and cigarette freedom rank above marriage freedom, and abortion goes unmentioned. A libertarian turn for conservatives would be nice — libertarians actually hold the free market views conservatives claim and actually accept the importance of reason and individual liberty. But this is the reason it will never happen: True libertarianism would decimate the Republican base, so instead a half-hearted libertarianism prevails — stripped of policies, it subsists on empty rhetoric. But then again, the last few Republican rebranding efforts have been empty rhetoric, and so will this one.


By: Sean McElwee, Salon, August 23, 2014

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Libertarians, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Police In Ferguson Keep Praying And Preying”: The Pandering Religiosity Of Law Enforcement Officials

The Greater St. Mark Church was raided today as St. Louis County Police thought that protesters were spending the night in the church, which has been used as a staging area for protestors. Police have since closed the building and stated that if anyone congregates on the premises at night, there would be arrests. One member of the Dream Defenders said “what [the police] did today is tell us, what? There is no safety here.”

The Pastor of the church, Missouri Representative Tommie Pierson (D), said of the police “they don’t like us too much.”

Earlier the same day, Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson asked the police department chaplain to pray before giving the late night report. One line was particularly stunning: “Again we come here having used all the energy and all the resources that you have given to our residents, their families, and our peacekeeping force, to bring peace—your peace.”

While the killing of Michael Brown was egregious enough, the manner in which the Ferguson police force and Captain Ron Johnson have used prayer to sanction their police actions and violence towards citizen protestors is detestable.

America has a history of those in authority invoking Christianity to justify slavery, lynching, and bombings. During the conflict in Ferguson, the local and state police who recite nightly prayers before going out to intimidate and arrest protestors follow this historical trajectory.

Perhaps the most galling figure is Captain Johnson, appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to oversee the Ferguson Police and the National Guard. Johnson appeared at a local church to apologize to Michael Brown’s parents, garnering much praise from the crowd for his respectability and Christian piety. Yet while Johnson placates the public with appeals to Christianity he simultaneously sanctions violence at the hands of the state. Perhaps the public will forget, with his constant calls to prayer, that he’s in charge of a force that has used tear gas on, cursed at and abused protestors.

In contrast, clergy in Ferguson and from around the country have come to show their solidarity and to help the citizens of Ferguson in their quest for justice. Early on, the Rev. Renita Lamkin was shot with a rubber bullet while trying to place herself between protesters and the police.

Other local clergy have met with the governor and state officials, while pastors from all over have been coming to aid in the efforts, including a group from Philadelphia that includes the pastor of Historic Mother Bethel AME church, Mark Tyler, and Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan, Pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church. The presence of clergy members is a helpful counterbalance to local and state law enforcement presenting themselves as both religious and civic authority.

The whole situation has me thinking a lot about Frederick Douglass’ Slaveholding Religion and the Christianity of Christ. His words still ring true with regard to the empty prayers of the police in Ferguson “They attend with pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”

If there’s to be any justice for the shooting of Michael Brown, the pandering religiosity of the law enforcement officials will have to cease. What the community of Ferguson, the parents of Michael Brown, and the whole country need right now is an honest assessment of the facts, for Darren Wilson to be held accountable for his actions, and for there to be clear, truthful communication between law enforcement and the people they serve, without violence.


By: Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches, August 20, 2014

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Secret Sauce”: Paul Ryan; “I’m Keeping Tax Cuts For The Rich”

Reducing the top tax rate has been the Republican Party’s highest priority for a quarter century. Since the 2012 election, a handful of apostates have gently urged it to change course. Paul Ryan, who remains the most powerful figure within the party, has just given an interview to John McCormack, and he has a message for the reformers who want to change course: forget it. Ryan, reports McCormack, “made it clear that he disagrees with some conservatives who are willing to accept a high top tax rate in order to increase the child tax credit.”

If the significance of Ryan’s statement here doesn’t immediately strike you, let me explain. Starting in the early 1980s, supply-side economics emerged as the Republican Party’s policy doctrine. Supply-side economics holds that the marginal tax rates hold the key to economic growth, and thus that even tiny changes to tax rates can unleash massive changes to economic performance. Accordingly, Republicans have valued low tax rates over absolutely everything else.

In the 2012 election, that commitment turned into a major liability for the party. The Republican ticket ran on a somewhat sketchily defined plan to reform taxes, the impact of which would have been to give the richest one percent a huge tax cut and impose higher taxes on the middle class.

The Republican reformers have, correctly, identified the commitment to reducing the top tax rate as a major (or even the major) liability. The most important theme of “Room to Grow,” a policy manifesto by “reform conservatives,” is that the GOP should abandon supply-side economics. In some ways, this is the key to many other policy choices the party faces. If they keep their traditional commitment to low top tax rates above all else, there’s simply no money to spend elsewhere. On the other hand, if Republicans stop proposing to cut rich peoples’ taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars, they’ll be able to spread that money around on other things — tax credits for middle-class families, maybe some kind of health insurance — that would benefit a vastly larger bloc of voters. The policy champion for this bloc is Utah Senator Mike Lee, who has at least tried (the math is tricky) to craft a tax-reform plan that would hold taxes for the rich constant while expanding the child tax credit.

The reformists cast their argument in the most soothing possible tones. Cutting marginal tax rates was the correct policy in 1980, they agree. (It is axiomatic among Republicans that everything Ronald Reagan did was correct, even the things that contradicted other things he did.) But the world has changed, tax rates have fallen, and what worked for 1980 does not apply today.

With predictable fury, supply-siders have denounced this heresy. You can get a flavor of the intra-party debate in columns appearing in places like Forbes or The Wall Street Journal, the later of which retorts, “Good economic policy doesn’t have a sell-by date. (Adam Smith? Ugh. He is just so 1776.)”

Ryan has positioned himself as a reformist in some ways. He acknowledged that calling people who get government benefits “takers” is mean. On the other hand, Ryan is a longtime, deeply devoted supply-sider. As a teenager, he immersed himself  in The Way the World Works and Wealth and Poverty, the two foundational texts of the supply-side economics worldview (both of which happen to be barking mad), which teach the absolute primacy of marginal tax rates.

So Ryan is cross-pressured here, between a faction that is attempting to excise the party’s weaknesses and his own most fundamental convictions. His answer to McCormack is surprisingly blunt:

“I’m a classic growth conservative. I believe that the best way to help families, the best way to help the economy is to reduce rates across the board,” Ryan said when asked about Utah senator Mike Lee’s plan to increase the child tax credit and create two income tax brackets of 15 percent and 35 percent. “Growth occurs on the margin, which is a wonky way of saying, if you want faster economic growth, more upward mobility, and faster job creation, lower tax rates across the board is the key—it’s the secret sauce.”

That’s Ryan’s conviction. He disagrees with Lee that subsidizing middle-income families with children ought to be the party’s priority. He still believes marginal tax rates are the “secret sauce.” To Ryan’s credit, in this case, he is not hiding it.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, August 20, 2014

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Child Tax Credits, Paul Ryan, Tax Rates | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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