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The Strengths and Weaknesses of “Atlas Shrugged: Part III” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The Strengths and Weaknesses of “Atlas Shrugged: Part III” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 16, 2014
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Mr. Stolyarov reviews the final installment in the “Atlas Shrugged” film trilogy.

Although Mr. Stolyarov favorably reviewed the first two installments, in his view the third film fails to do full justice to the culmination of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, where one would expect to witness the coalescence into an integrated worldview of all of the philosophical and plot pieces that Rand meticulously introduced during the first two parts. Atlas Shrugged: Part III is not without its merits, and it is inspiring in certain respects – especially in its conveyance of Rand’s passionate defense of the creator-individualist. However, the film is also not a great one, and the creators could have made Rand’s source material shine consistently instead of glowing dimly while occasionally emitting a bright flicker.

References

– “The Accomplishments of ‘Atlas Shrugged: Part I’” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
– “Rejecting the Purveyors of Pull: The Lessons of ‘Atlas Shrugged: Part II‘” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
– “The Strengths and Weaknesses of ‘Atlas Shrugged: Part III’” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Strengths and Weaknesses of “Atlas Shrugged: Part III” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Strengths and Weaknesses of “Atlas Shrugged: Part III” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 13, 2014
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In my reviews of Part I and Part II of the Atlas Shrugged film trilogy, I expressed largely favorable reactions to those films’ message and execution. Naturally, I was eager to see Part III and the completion of the long-awaited Atlas Shrugged trilogy. After I watched it, though, my response to this conclusion is more muted. The film fails to do full justice to the culmination of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, where one would expect to witness the coalescence into an integrated worldview of all of the philosophical and plot pieces that Rand meticulously introduced during the first two parts. Atlas Shrugged: Part III is not without its merits, and it is inspiring in certain respects – especially in its conveyance of Rand’s passionate defense of the creator-individualist. However, the film is also not a great one, and the creators could have made Rand’s source material shine consistently instead of glowing dimly while occasionally emitting a bright flicker.

Strength 1: There is now a complete film series spanning the entire story arc of Atlas Shrugged. What Ayn Rand herself and many successive filmmakers could not achieve, producers Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro have been able to bring into existence. For decades, admirers of Ayn Rand’s work have lamented that no Atlas Shrugged movie had been made. The fact that this particular lament is obsolete constitutes major progress for Objectivism (where the rate of progress is admittedly extremely slow).

Weakness 1: Part III is, in my view, the most poorly executed of the three Atlas Shrugged movies, even though it had the potential to be the best. The extreme brevity of Part III – a mere 90 minutes, compared to 102 minutes for Part I and 112 minutes for Part II – orphaned many of the events of the film from their contexts, as compared to the meticulous rationale for each of Ayn Rand’s decisions in the novel. John Galt’s speech – which received some 70 pages in the novel – had been cut to bare bones and lacks the deep, rigorous, philosophical exposition that Ayn Rand saw as the substance and culmination of the novel.

Strength 2: As was the case with the previous installments, the film’s creators conveyed a plausible sense that the events of Atlas Shrugged could happen in our own world, or at least in a world that greatly resembles ours, as opposed to the world of 1957. In this sense, the film’s creators succeeded in conveying the universality of Atlas Shrugged’s moral message.

Weakness 2: Changes in directors and the entire cast for every single one of the Atlas Shrugged films greatly detract from the continuity of the story, especially for viewers who may watch the films back to back, once all of them are available on DVDs or other media.

Strength 3: The reactions to Galt’s Speech by Ron Paul, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck added authenticity and relevance to the film and reinforced the message that the conflict between value-creators and “looters” (cronyists or purveyors of political pull) is very much present in our era. In addition, whether one agrees or disagrees with these notable figures, it was amusing to see them in a dramatization of Ayn Rand’s literary world.

Weakness 3: The film fails to do justice to many important plot elements in Part Three of the book. Hank Rearden – my favorite character from the book and the most compelling character in Part II – barely makes an appearance. Cheryl Taggart’s suicide is only expressed in retrospectives of her realizations that drove her to this desperate act – while she is not actually shown taking any steps toward it. The fate of Eddie Willers at the end of the film is almost completely unaddressed, with a mere intimation that the protagonists have another man in mind for whom they plan to stop – but no validation that this would indeed be Eddie Willers. The treatment of Eddie Willers in the novel is ambiguous; Ayn Rand leaves him beside a broken-down Taggart Transcontinental train engine, abandoned by the railroad workers. He might be rescued, or he might perish – but he has not yet been invited into Galt’s Gulch. The film creators neither pose the ambiguity nor attempt to resolve it. For me, the fate of Eddie Willers – a sincere, moral, hard-working man who respects the achievements of heroic individualists but is not (according to Rand) one of them – is a key concern in Atlas Shrugged. I think Rand treated him with undeserving harshness, considering that people like Eddie Willers, especially if there are millions of them, can be tremendous contributors to human flourishing. The film creators missed an opportunity to vindicate Eddie and give him some more serious hope of finding a place in the new world created by the inhabitants of Galt’s Gulch. In Galt’s Gulch, the film shows Dagny explaining her plan to have a short railroad built to service Francisco d’Anconia’s new copper mine. But who would actually physically build the railroad and do the job well, if not people like Eddie Willers?

Strength 4: The film’s narrator does a decent job at bridging the events of the previous two installments and the plot of Part III. The events in the film begin with Dagny Taggart crash-landing in Galt’s Gulch, and even those who did not read the book or watch the preceding two films would be able to follow how and why she got there. The film is also excellent in displaying the corruption, incompetence, spitefulness, and callous scheming of the crony corporatist establishment that Rand despised – and that we should despise today. The smoky back-room scene where the economic planners toast to the destruction of Minnesota is one of the film’s high marks – a memorable illustration of what the mentality of “sacrificing the parts” for the whole actually looks like.

Weakness 4: While moderately effective at conveying narratives of events and generally decent in its treatment of ethics and politics, the film does not do justice to the ideas on metaphysics and epistemology also featured prominently in Atlas Shrugged. Furthermore, the previous two films were generally superior in regard to showing, in addition to telling, the fruits of the creative efforts of rational individualists, as well as the consequences for a society that shackles these creators. In the Part III film, many of the scenes utilized to illustrate these effects seemed more peripheral than central to the book’s message. Much of the footage hinted at the national and world events that take place in the book, but did not explicitly show them.

Amid these strengths and weaknesses remains an opportunity to continue the discussion about the undoubtedly crucial implications of Ayn Rand’s message to today’s political and societal climate – where there looms the question of how much longer the creator-individualists who power the motor of the world can keep moving forward in spite of the increasingly gargantuan obstacles placed in their way by legacy institutions. Any work that can pose these questions for consideration by wider numbers of people is welcome in an environment where far too many are distracted by the “bread and circuses” of mindless entertainment. Atlas Shrugged: Part III is a film with intellectual substance and relevance and so is worthy of a relatively short time commitment from anyone interested in Ayn Rand, Objectivism, philosophy, and current events. However, those who watch the film should also be sure to read the novel, if they have not already done so, in order to experience much greater depth of both plot and philosophical ideas.

The Incompatibility of Individual Rights with the Coerced Institutionalization of the “Mentally Ill” (2002) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Incompatibility of Individual Rights with the Coerced Institutionalization of the “Mentally Ill” (2002) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 29, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2002 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  The essay received over 600 views on Associated Content / Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
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~ G. Stolyarov II, July 29, 2014

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The idea that “mentally ill” persons must be locked in institutions against their wishes is a profoundly authoritarian idea, opposed to the rights of the individual and the founding principles of the United States. Yet it is an idea held by many elites and members of the psychiatric establishment today.

Let us examine the following statement by a prominent contemporary psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Slovenko: “Crazy people are [now] everywhere. Modern notions of civil liberties and fiscal considerations have combined to produce a population of very disturbed people in every city in America. The notion of local treatment alternatives for mentally incapacitated citizens in a cruel hoax. It is clear that the vast majority of dangerously impaired people are out there in the streets.” (Dr. Ralph Slovenko, professor of law and psychiatry at Wayne State University. 2000. pp.47-48)

This man proclaims, without even any subtlety, that individual rights, the foundation of freedom and prosperity in this country, are a root of derangement within the country’s populace!

Slovenko seeks to deny citizens of the United States the ability to select treatment within their communities should they detect a genuine mental illness and volitionally attempt a recovery. Instead he suggests (as is the application of this particular argument) that persons designated as “insane” or “mentally ill” must be locked against their consent in government-owned institutions for treatment.

Civil liberties as well as concern of officials for proper spending of public funds (which does not encompass the imprisonment of persons who have not committed a crime) had resulted in widespread deinstitutionalization during the 1950s, but people like Dr. Slovenko have been clamoring for the reinstatement of asylums ever since.

In George Orwell’s 1984, the free spirits who resist the Party’s rule are arrested, imprisoned, and subsequently transferred to a facility subordinate to the Ministry of Love in which they undergo a combination of torture and “rehabilitation”, their will the resist broken under a hail of Party dogma. They are declared delusional since their frame of mind differs from that imposed by the social paradigm. Because they see the truth of a single reality and the need to interact with it, they are declared mentally ill and “treated”. Frighteningly enough, real people in our time like Dr. Slovenko also seek to coercively ensnare such “dangerous” persons.

Dr. Slovenko’s words in particular remind one of the major fear of Party officials in George Orwell’s 1984, the so-called “thoughtcrime”, by which concept a man’s freedom, not merely the freedom to do what he pleases but to think what he pleases, is forever deprived from him as a result of the contents of his mind not being in accordance with “socially acceptable” beliefs, i.e. those of the dominant oligarchy. Slovenko suggests precisely that, the containment of persons not for the criminal deed, but for “inclination” or deviation in outward behavior and thought that would brand them with the subjective label, “insane”.

Congress Defers to President On NSA Reform – Article by Ron Paul

Congress Defers to President On NSA Reform – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
January 12, 2014
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Congress’s decline from the Founders’ vision as “first among equals” in government to an echo chamber of the unitary executive, has been a slow but steady process. In the process we have seen a steady stream of unconstitutional wars and civil-liberties abuses at home. Nowhere is this decline more evident than in the stark contrast between the Congressional response to intelligence agencies’ abuses during the post-Watergate era and its response to the far more serious NSA abuses uncovered in recent years.In 1975, Senator Frank Church (D-ID) convened an historic select committee to investigate the US intelligence services for possible criminality in the wake of Watergate. Thanks in part to reporting by Seymour Hersh and others, abuses by the CIA, NSA, and FBI had come to light, including the monitoring of US peace activists.The Church Committee played its proper Congressional role, checking the power of the executive branch as it had been spiraling out of control since the 1950s and the early CIA covert action programs. The Committee sought to protect US citizens against abuses by their government after those abuses had come to light through leaks of secret government documents.

The parallel to the present NSA scandals cannot be ignored. What is completely different, however, is that Congress is today acting as an advocate for the executive branch’s continuing abuses, and as an opponent to the civil liberties of US citizens. Not only has Congress – with a precious few exceptions – accepted the NSA’s mass spying program on American citizens, it has actually been encouraging the president to continue and expand the program!

Where once there was a Congressional committee to challenge and oppose the president’s abuse of power, today the president himself has been even allowed by a complacent Congress to hand pick his own NSA review commission!

Are we really expected to believe that a commission appointed by the president to look into the activities of the president’s intelligence services will come to anything more than a few superficial changes to give the impression of real reform?

One of the president’s commission recommendations is that the NSA cease holding our phone records and demand that the private phone companies retain those records instead – for the NSA to access as it wishes. This is supposed to be reform?

The president will make a speech this Friday to tell the rest of us which of the suggestions made by his own commission he will decide to implement. Congress has no problem with that. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) admitted last week that Congress has no intention of asserting itself in the process. “It’s my hope that [Obama will] do as much as he can through the executive process because the legislative process will be difficult, perilous and long.”

Senator Church famously said back in 1975:

In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air… We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left… There would be no place to hide…. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

Have we reached that point? Let us hope not. Real reform begins with the repeal of the PATRIOT Act and of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. If we keep our eye on that goal and not allow ourselves to become distracted with the president’s phony commissions we might force Congress to listen.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

War in the Middle East is Inherently Collectivist – Article by G. Stolyarov II

War in the Middle East is Inherently Collectivist – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 8, 2013
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Especially in light of the looming threat of a wasteful, counterproductive US military intervention in Syria, it is necessary to offer a resounding refutation to the recommendations of those who consider themselves individualists to engage in any sort of mass military action – commonly known as war, declared or not – against large numbers of people in the Middle East. Some such persons, especially those affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), advocate a foreign policy more aggressive and, in its consequences, far more destructive than even the actual interventionist measures undertaken by the United States federal government during the Bush and Obama administrations. In a recent speech at the 2013 Steamboat Institute Freedom Conference, Yaron Brook, ARI’s executive director, put forth his recommendation for solving the persistent threat of politicized Islamist regimes and the terrorism that stems therefrom: completely destroy either Iran or Saudi Arabia and threaten the surviving country into submission. Brook also reaffirmed his consideration of General William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the first practitioners of modern “total war” and an instigator of untold damage to the lives and property of innocent civilians during the American Civil War, as his personal hero.  As an advocate of reason, a person of conscience, and a staunch individualist, I strongly, emphatically object to this course of action. As foreign policy goes, I cannot think of one less productive, other than perhaps indiscriminately launching nuclear weapons everywhere.

In March 2012 I made a video, “Refuting Ayn Rand on War”, where I specifically described my objections to Rand’s and Brook’s advocacy of warfare. I refer there to some of Brook’s previously stated views, including his admiration of William T. Sherman, which he again articulated during his Steamboat Institute speech. While most of Brook’s speech is sympathetic in its emphasis on individual freedom and a rolling-back of the economic burdens imposed by the federal government domestically, his foreign policy would clearly undermine this path. Indeed, if one wishes to reduce the scope of the federal government and its intrusiveness into individuals’ lives, deep cuts on both the domestic and foreign fronts are needed. US government debt is already spiraling out of control, and it would not be practically feasible to balance the budget (avoiding increased taxation, inflation, or borrowing) without cutting military spending and eliminating numerous wasteful and deleterious foreign occupations. As long as self-proclaimed individualists, libertarians, and fiscal conservatives resist an enormous reduction in US military budgets and overseas intervention, at least one, and probably all, of the three consequences of continued budget deficits will inevitably occur.

But there is a deeper, moral case to be made against war in general. Some might allege that this time it is different. But when was it ever not different? The regime of the Soviet Union posed a far greater danger to liberty in the 20th century than rag-tag groups of fundamentalist Islamist terrorists and the regimes backing them ever could. Yet war between the United States and the Soviet Union was fortunately averted, aside from some admittedly destructive proxy wars, and billions of innocent people can live in relative peace and comfort today due to the avoidance of nuclear Armageddon through a more restrained foreign policy than the “hawks” of the Cold War era advocated.  I do not oppose targeted strikes that specifically eliminate violent terrorists and only such individuals. A good example of this was the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. However, a state of war is completely unnecessary to carry out such limited actions.

War attacks not just an armed band of terrorists, not just a regime, but an entire country and its people. This is especially true since the shift in the 19th century away from limited battlefield engagements involving professional armed servants (and mercenaries) of powerful interests competing for natural resources and prestige, and toward “total war” fueled by nationalistic and ideological animosities – where all of a country’s population is considered “the enemy” or at least an asset to “the enemy”. Such warfare is inherently collectivistic in its premise. It fails to recognize that individuals ruled by hostile regimes or terrorized by armed criminals still have minds of their own, that they may disagree with and indeed be oppressed by those regimes and criminals. Targeted assassinations of dictators and terrorist leaders are one matter, but indiscriminate “collateral damage” against peaceful civilians is morally unacceptable for an individualist. Anyone claiming to follow the philosophy of Ayn Rand, including Ayn Rand herself, should know (or, in Rand’s case, should have known) better.

The current case of violent crime fueled by fundamentalist Islamist ideology is no exception. The world has over a billion Muslims, who are overwhelmingly peaceful (like most adherents of all major religious and ideological systems), even if one legitimately considers them mistaken in their theological beliefs. Many prominent Muslims have condemned the attacks of September 11, 2001, and other attacks on peaceful civilians in the West. Some Muslims are secular in their political outlook and, indeed, have made efforts to maintain secular governments in the face of threats by Islamist political parties to implement sharia law and religiously motivated restrictions on personal freedom. The revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, despite their sub-optimal outcomes and the eventual emergence of dominant factions advocating the politicization of religion, were initially driven by freedom-respecting, secular, yet largely Muslim individuals. These people set the spark for the overthrow of the long-standing authoritarian tyrannies of Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Gaddafi. They now contend against political Islam in their troubled countries, but it is essential for any individualist to respect them and their plight, and for any government that even pretends to respect freedom to leave them alive to have any positive influence of which they are capable. Often, the infighting within the turmoil-ridden Middle East results in tragedy on all sides; surely, this ought to be the glaring lesson of the current Syrian situation. However, American bombs, missiles, and drones are surely not the answer. These weapons kill indiscriminately. Even drone attacks allegedly “targeted” toward terror suspects (still often without due process or convincing evidence of their criminal intent) end up killing far more innocent bystanders, including children, than actual would-be terrorists. Are the relatives, friends, and acquaintances of the victims going to acknowledge the “moral legitimacy” of their deaths by the brutal calculus of Yaron Brook and those who think like him? Or, more realistically, are they going to experience a justified outrage and forever despise the government – and, if they are themselves collectivists in mindset – the entire country and people whom they blame for these terrible killings?

There is no quick, easy solution to the turmoil in the Middle East, nor to the violent threats that such turmoil sometimes poses to the lives of people in the Western world. However, there are some clear changes of direction that can gradually curtail the major risks.  First, it is essential for governments in the Western world to refrain from actions that curtail the liberties of their own citizens, allegedly to respond to this threat. In fact, the terrorists and political Islamist regimes have won a greater victory than they could ever have achieved by force of arms, as a result of the pervasive civil-liberties violations instigated by Western governments since September 11, 2001. The omnipresent surveillance, the bodily violations at airports, the increasing militarization of the police force surely have more in common with a totalitarian regime than with the freedom that the fundamentalist terrorists allegedly hate. The more aggressive American military interventions become, the more animosity and blowback they generate, the more inclined Western governments will be to crack down on their own citizens’ freedoms further. Thus, militarism abroad directly causes unfreedom at home – as it has during every major war in American History, from Lincoln’s imprisonment of dissident newspaper editors during the Civil War, to Woodrow Wilson’s World War I propaganda machine and imprisonment of opponents of the military draft, to Franklin Roosevelt’s internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. The present period of the never-ending “War on Terror” is no exception. There is no way for a government to respect individualism and the rights of its own citizens while it turns civilians abroad into fodder for bombs and drone strikes.

Second, it is essential to treat “acts of terror” no differently from “ordinary” crimes – attacks on human lives and property. The criminal-justice system has various ways of dealing with gangsters, murderers, street muggers, arsonists, and common vandals. Domestically, the same standards should apply toward the same acts, no matter whether or not they were motivated by Islamist ideology. A person who bombs a building or a public event is a criminal murderer and should be dealt with accordingly. It is time to dismantle the exceptional category of “terrorist acts” as distinct from ordinary crime. That category is the linchpin by which all of our Constitutional freedoms have been rendered moot. As regards armed military-style groups operating abroad, it is acceptable to use truly targeted strikes limited to neutralizing members of those groups (and not “signature strikes” that attack an entire area, irrespective of the known presence of militants). But this is not war against an entire people or even a government; it is more akin to a targeted action. As former Representative Ron Paul has recommended since the September 11 attacks, issuing Letters of Marque and Reprisal specifically against such militants is a desirable, Constitutionally authorized remedy quite distinct from war.

Finally, to end the threat of militant attacks on Westerners, it is essential for the Middle East itself to become transformed over time, both economically and culturally, into a place where individual rights and intellectual progress are fundamentally respected and appreciated. Bombs could never effectuate such transformation; they only breed hatred and backlash. Instead, individuals and companies in the West should entice the Middle East to join them on a more enlightened trajectory. Commerce and cultural diffusion can bring economic opportunity and prosperity to millions who are currently in dire poverty. Ayn Rand recognized and appreciated the power of free-market capitalism to bring not just peace and prosperity, but moral elevation, to vast numbers of people. This should be the path embraced by decision-makers in the West, echoing the sage advice of Thomas Jefferson: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none”. Over the coming decades, a steady application of this approach will diminish the militant threat, though not overnight. Still, it is a far preferable alternative to the recommendations of those whose policy of mass destruction would only fuel the fires of militant attacks and reduce Western governments, militaries, and their supporters to the same level of inhuman barbarism against which they are allegedly defending us.  True individualism – indeed, true humanism – would demand no less than a complete rejection of the killing of innocent civilians as a solution to any problem.

Why Won’t They Tell Us the Truth About NSA Spying? – Article by Ron Paul

Why Won’t They Tell Us the Truth About NSA Spying? – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
August 10, 2013
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In 2001, the Patriot Act opened the door to US government monitoring of Americans without a warrant. It was unconstitutional, but most in Congress over my strong objection were so determined to do something after the attacks of 9/11 that they did not seem to give it too much thought. Civil liberties groups were concerned, and some of us in Congress warned about giving up our liberties even in the post-9/11 panic. But at the time most Americans did not seem too worried about the intrusion.
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This complacency has suddenly shifted given recent revelations of the extent of government spying on Americans. Federal politicians and bureaucrats are faced with serious backlash from Americans outraged that their most personal communications are intercepted and stored. They had been told that only the terrorists would be monitored. In response to this anger, defenders of the program have time and again resorted to spreading lies and distortions. But these untruths are now being exposed very quickly.

In a Senate hearing this March, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Senator Ron Wyden that the NSA did not collect phone records of millions of Americans. This was just three months before the revelations of an NSA leaker made it clear that Clapper was not telling the truth. Pressed on his false testimony before Congress, Clapper apologized for giving an “erroneous” answer but claimed it was just because he “simply didn’t think of Section 215 of the Patriot Act.” Wow.

As the story broke in June of the extent of warrantless NSA spying against Americans, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers assured us that the project was a strictly limited and not invasive. He described it as a “lockbox with only phone numbers, no names, no addresses in it, we’ve used it sparingly, it is absolutely overseen by the legislature, the judicial branch and the executive branch, has lots of protections built in…”

But we soon discovered that also was not true either. We learned in another Guardian newspaper article last week that the top secret “X-Keyscore” program allows even low-level analysts to “search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

The keys to Rogers’ “lockbox” seem to have been handed out to everyone but the janitors! As Chairman of the Committee that is supposed to be most in the loop on these matters, it seems either the Intelligence Community misled him about their programs or he misled the rest of us. It sure would be nice to know which one it is.

Likewise, Rep. Rogers and many other defenders of the NSA spying program promised us that this dragnet scooping up the personal electronic communications of millions of Americans had already stopped “dozens” of terrorist plots against the United States. In June, NSA director General Keith Alexander claimed that the just-disclosed bulk collection of Americans’ phone and other electronic records had “foiled 50 terror plots.”

Opponents of the program were to be charged with being unconcerned with our security.

But none of it was true.

On August 3, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard dramatic testimony from NSA deputy director John C. Inglis. According to the Guardian:

“The NSA has previously claimed that 54 terrorist plots had been disrupted ‘over the lifetime’ of the bulk phone records collection and the separate program collecting the internet habits and communications of people believed to be non-Americans. On Wednesday, Inglis said that at most one plot might have been disrupted by the bulk phone records collection alone.”

From dozens to “at most one”?

Supporters of these programs are now on the defensive, with several competing pieces of legislation in the House and Senate seeking to rein in an administration and intelligence apparatus that is clearly out of control. This is to be commended. What is even more important, though, is for more and more and more Americans to educate themselves about our precious liberties and to demand that their government abide by the Constitution. We do not have to accept being lied to – or spied on — by our government.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission.

Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, 2013, showed all too clearly that totalitarianism does not need decades of incremental legislation and regimentation to come to this country. All it needs is the now-pervasive fear of “terrorism” – a fear which can give one man the power to shut down the economic life of an entire city for a day.

This video is based on Mr. Stolyarov’s recent essay, “Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston“.

References

-“U.S. Cities With Bigger Economies Than Entire Countries” – Wall Street Journal – July 20, 2012
– “Adding up the financial costs of the Boston bombings” – Bill Dedman and John Schoen, NBC News – April 30, 2013
– “United Airlines Flight 93” – Wikipedia
– “Richard Reid” – Wikipedia
– “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab” – Wikipedia
– “Homicides decrease in Boston for third straight year” – Matt Carroll, The Boston Globe – January 1, 2013
– “List of motor vehicle deaths in U.S. by year” – Wikipedia
– “How Scared of Terrorism Should You Be?” – Ronald Bailey, Reason Magazine – September 6, 2011
– “Terrorism Risk Insurance Act” – Wikipedia
– “Business Frets at Terrorism Tag of Marathon Attack” – Associated Press – May 13, 2013
– “TIME/CNN Poll Shows Increasing Number Of Americans Won’t Give Up Civil Liberties To Fight Terrorism” – Tim Cushing, TechDirt – May 6, 2013

Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 13, 2013
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Everyday life in the United States is still semi-free most of the time, if one goes about one’s own business and avoids flying or crossing the border. Yet, the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, 2013, showed all too clearly that totalitarianism does not need decades of incremental legislation and regimentation to come to this country. All it needs is the now-pervasive fear of “terrorism” – a fear which can give one man the power to shut down the economic life of an entire city for a day.

The annual Gross Domestic Product of Boston is approximately $326 billion (based on 2011 figures from the Wall Street Journal). For one day, Boston’s GDP can be roughly estimated as ($326 billion)/365 = $893.15 million. Making the rather conservative assumption that only about half of a city’s economic activity would require people to leave their homes in any way, one can estimate the economic losses due to the Boston lockdown to be around $447 million. By contrast, how much damaged property and medical costs resulted directly from the criminal act committed by the Chechen nationalist and Islamic fundamentalist brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev? An NBC News article detailing the economic damages from the bombing estimates total medical costs to be in excess of $9 million, while total losses within the “impact zone” designated by the Boston Police Department are about $10 million. To give us a wide margin of error again, let us double these estimates and assume that the bombers inflicted total economic damage of $38 million. The economic damage done by the lockdown would still exceed this total by a factor of about 11.76 – more than an order of magnitude!

It is true, of course, that the cost in terms of the length and quality of life for the three people killed and the 264 people injured by the bombings cannot be accounted for in monetary terms. But I wonder: how many years of life will $447 million in lost economic gains deprive from the population of Boston put together – especially when one considers that these economic losses affect life-sustaining sectors such as medical care and pharmaceuticals? Furthermore, to what extent would this lost productivity forestall the advent of future advances that could have lengthened people’s lives one day sooner? One will most likely never know, but the reality of opportunity cost is nonetheless always with us, and surely, some massive opportunity costs were incurred during the Boston lockdown.  Moreover, one type of damage does not justify or excuse another. However horrific the Boston bombings were, they were not a reason to further hinder innocent people.

Bad policy is the surest and most powerful ally of malicious, hate-driven miscreants like the Tsarnaev brothers. On April 19, the day of the lockdown, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the sole surviving Boston Marathon bomber, hid inside a boat in a private backyard, incapacitated and nearly dead from a botched suicide attempt. Dzokhar wanted only to end his own life, and yet he could never have caused more trouble than he did during those hours, because, while the lockdown was in place, bad policy was inflicting more economic damage than the Tsarnaev brothers’ crude and clumsy attack could ever have unleashed on its own.

Only after the lockdown was lifted could a private citizen, David Henneberry, leave his house and notice that his boat had a loose cover. As Thomas Jefferson would have told the Bostonians, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Virtually every time malicious plots against innocent civilians are actually foiled – be it the takedown of United Airlines Flight 93 or the arrests of attempted “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – it is the vigilance of ordinary but courageous individuals that truly enhances the safety of us all.  Policies that create martial law, prevent people from leading their lives, and result in SWAT-style “sweeps” of people’s homes in search of a single individual not only do nothing to actually help capture the violent wrongdoer, but also subvert the liberty, prosperity, and quality of life for many orders of magnitude more people than any criminal cell could ever hope to undermine on its own.

Would any other dangerous condition, one not thought to be “terrorism,” ever provoke such a wildly disproportionate and oppressive reaction? Consider that Boston had 58 homicides in the year 2012. Many cities’ murder rates are much higher, sometimes reaching an average of one murder per day. Was a lockdown initiated for every third homicide in any American city? Traffic fatalities claim over 30,000 lives in the United States every year – or 10,000 times the death toll of the Boston Marathon bombing, and ten times the death toll of even the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Are entire neighborhoods shut down every time there is a deadly car crash? If this were the accepted practice, all economic life – indeed most life in general – in the United States would grind to a halt.  Yet, while the most likely and widespread threats to our lives come from very mundane sources, bad policies and distorted public perceptions of risk are motivated by fear of the unusual, the grotesque, the sensational and sensationalized kinds of death. And yet, in spite of fear-mongering by politicians, the media, special interests, and those who rely exclusively on sound bites, the threat to one’s personal safety from a terrorist act is so minuscule as to safely be ignored. In fact, as Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine discusses, the odds of being killed by a lightning bolt are about four times greater!

 Ironically enough, the very act that precipitated the Boston lockdown might not even officially be designated a terrorist act after all. If you thought that this was because politicians are suddenly coming to their senses, think again. The real reason is somewhat less intuitive and relates to insurance coverage for the businesses damaged by the attacks. Most commercial property and business-interruption insurance policies will cover losses from criminal acts, but explicitly exclude coverage for acts of terrorism, unless the business purchases special terrorism coverage reinsured by the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Program. However, for the terrorism exclusions in many ordinary commercial insurance policies to apply, an act of terrorism has to be formally certified as such by the Secretary of the Treasury (and sometimes other officials, such as the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security). (For more details on this turn of events, read “Business Frets at Terrorism Tag of Marathon Attack” by the Associated Press.) The affected businesses really do not want the bombings to be formally classified as terrorism, as this will impede the businesses’ ability to obtain the insurance proceeds which would be integral to their recovery.

 I have no objection to the federal government refraining from certifying the bombings as a terrorist act in an effort to avoid needless bureaucratic complications that would impede recovery. However, I also detest Orwellian doublethink. If the bombings are not terrorism for one purpose, then they cannot be terrorism in any other sense. If they will not be used to justify depriving businesses of insurance proceeds, then surely they must not be used to deprive the rest of us of our freedom to move about as we wish, to pursue our economic aspirations, to retain the privacy of our homes, and to otherwise lead our lives in peace. If the bombings are not certified as terrorism, then all fear-mongering rhetoric by federal politicians about the need to heighten “security” in response to this “terrorist” act should cease as well. The law of non-contradiction is one type of law that our politicians – and the people of the United States more generally – urgently need to recognize.

I certainly hope that no future bombings of public events occur in the United States, not only out of a desire to preserve the lives of my fellow human beings, but also out of grave concern for the possibly totalitarian reaction that would follow any such heinous act. I enjoy living in peace and relative freedom day to day, but I know that it is only by the grace and perhaps the laziness of America’s political masters that I am able to do so. I continue to hope for an amazing run of good luck with regard to the non-occurrence of any particularly visible instances of mass crime, so that the people of the United States can find the time to gradually become enlightened about the real risks in their lives and the genuinely effective strategies for reducing those risks. There is hope that the American people are gradually regaining their common sense; perhaps they will drag the politicians toward reason with them – however reluctant the politicians might be to pursue sensible policies for a change.

Liberty Was Also Attacked in Boston – Article by Ron Paul

Liberty Was Also Attacked in Boston – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
April 28, 2013
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Forced lockdown of a city. Militarized police riding tanks in the streets. Door-to-door armed searches without warrant. Families thrown out of their homes at gunpoint to be searched without probable cause. Businesses forced to close. Transport shut down.

These were not the scenes from a military coup in a far off banana republic, but rather the scenes just over a week ago in Boston as the United States got a taste of martial law. The ostensible reason for the military-style takeover of parts of Boston was that the accused perpetrator of a horrific crime was on the loose. The Boston bombing provided the opportunity for the government to turn what should have been a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city. This unprecedented move should frighten us as much or more than the attack itself.

What has been sadly forgotten in all the celebration of the capture of one suspect and the killing of his older brother is that the police state tactics in Boston did absolutely nothing to catch them. While the media crowed that the apprehension of the suspects was a triumph of the new surveillance state – and, predictably, many talking heads and Members of Congress called for even more government cameras pointed at the rest of us – the fact is none of this caught the suspect. Actually, it very nearly gave the suspect a chance to make a getaway.

The “shelter in place” command imposed by the governor of Massachusetts was lifted before the suspect was caught. Only after this police state move was ended did the owner of the boat go outside to check on his property, and in so doing discover the suspect.

No, the suspect was not discovered by the paramilitary troops terrorizing the public. He was discovered by a private citizen, who then placed a call to the police. And he was identified not by government surveillance cameras, but by private citizens who willingly shared their photographs with the police.

As journalist Tim Carney wrote last week:

“Law enforcement in Boston used cameras to ID the bombing suspects, but not police cameras. Instead, authorities asked the public to submit all photos and videos of the finish-line area to the FBI, just in case any of them had relevant images. The surveillance videos the FBI posted online of the suspects came from private businesses that use surveillance to punish and deter crime on their property.”

Sadly, we have been conditioned to believe that the job of the government is to keep us safe, but in reality the job of the government is to protect our liberties. Once the government decides that its role is to keep us safe, whether economically or physically, they can only do so by taking away our liberties. That is what happened in Boston.

Three people were killed in Boston and that is tragic. But what of the fact that over 40 persons are killed in the United States each day, and sometimes ten persons can be killed in one city on any given weekend? These cities are not locked-down by paramilitary police riding in tanks and pointing automatic weapons at innocent citizens.

This is unprecedented and is very dangerous. We must educate ourselves and others about our precious civil liberties to ensure that we never accept demands that we give up our Constitution so that the government can pretend to protect us.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission.

Why Mitt Romney Will Not Benefit Liberty – Stolyarov’s Response to Steele – Part 2 – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Mitt Romney Will Not Benefit Liberty – Stolyarov’s Response to Steele – Part 2 – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
October 25, 2012
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Here, I continue my exchange with Dr. Charles Steele regarding the 2012 U.S. Presidential election and the question of whether either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney have any merit as candidates or whether one can be preferred to the other. In “The Imperative of Libertarian Rejection of the Two-Party Trap”, I addressed the question of whether it can be morally legitimate to vote for a lesser evil, and concluded that it is not – particularly where a fundamentally dishonest and deceptive ticket such as Romney/Ryan is concerned. (Readers can also see the aforementioned article for a list of links to the previous installments of this exchange.) Here, I respond to Part 2 of Dr. Steele’s previous response: “Romney v. Obama: Tweedledum and Tweedledee?”.

I will first say that I have no intention of defending Barack Obama or claiming that his second term would not be “as bad” as Dr. Steele portrays. Barack Obama has, in many ways, been responsible for a massive growth of the American police and surveillance state, as well as an expansion of militaristic interventionism abroad. His economic policies have, likewise, been highly damaging to liberty and prosperity alike. Drone attacks on innocents, molestation at the airports, an escalating War on Drugs, persecution of whistleblowers, attempts to conflate Wikileaks with crime and terrorism, health-insurance mandates, bailouts and subsidies to political cronies, inflationary monetary policy, reckless deficit-spending fiscal policy, support for draconian “cybersecurity” legislation that would fundamentally curtail Internet freedom and subject billions of individual communications to monitoring by error-prone algorithms, continuing maintenance of CIA torture facilities (a.k.a. “black sites”) abroad, and the “audacity” to insists that the President of the United States has the authority to assassinate any American citizen abroad, or indefinitely detain any American citizen in the United States, based on his mere say-so – all that (and more along similar lines!) has been the legacy of Obama’s first term. I have absolutely no intention of defending Obama – except in cases where the accusations against him are simply factually untrue, or where his administration happens to have stumbled upon a decent and reasonable policy.

One important question to ask is, “Why has Mitt Romney not emphasized virtually any of the above tremendous harms of the Obama administration?” At the Free and Equal Third-Party  Debate, all four of the participants (Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson, and Virgil Goode) had scathing criticisms of Obama’s administration in some (or, in the case of Gary Johnson, most) of the areas mentioned above. Ron Paul’s criticisms of Obama were similarly severe, and similarly on target. The perceptive observer, then, is left to wonder why Mitt Romney’s campaign completely ignores the actual harms caused by Obama during his first term and instead focuses on criticisms that are trivial at best or disingenuous and dishonest at worst. Is it, perhaps, that Romney would himself perpetrate the travesties discussed above, and perhaps intensify them? Is it, perhaps, that Romney’s political base actually insists that he attack Obama for not being “tough” enough with regard to certain military engagements and infringements on civil liberties?  (One must remember that Romney himself stated during the Republican debates that he would have signed the indefinite-detention provision of the NDAA. Furthermore, Romney expressed strong support for SOPA and the Protect IP Act before reversing his stance once it became apparent that continued endorsement of these bills would be politically ruinous.)

Rather than defend Obama or contrast him favorably to Romney, I will respond to each of Dr. Steele’s points by following a general theme: that Mitt Romney is cut from the same cloth as Obama policy-wise, and is even worse personality-wise. Obama, for all of his erroneous and dangerous views and actions, at least seems to have an ideological system that he endeavors to realize, however imperfectly and however subject to political maneuvering and backtracking. Romney, on the other hand, seems beholden to no principles. David Javerbaum has aptly characterized Romney as engaging in “quantum politics” – e.g., “Mitt Romney will feel every possible way about an issue until the moment he is asked about it, at which point the many feelings decohere into the single answer most likely to please the asker.”

This, then, can be seen as my response to Dr. Steele’s point regarding the “general vision” of the two candidates. Dr. Steele wrote that “This presidential election is not so much a choice between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama as it is between two competing visions of the role of government.” I respond that the two parties do not represent competing visions, because the Republicans – by nominating Mitt Romney – have shown that they do not represent any vision whatsoever, or at the very least that their “vision” is a blank to be filled by the expediencies of the day. A left-progressive vision, however erroneous or even dangerous in some respects, is at least relatively predictable – though even many left-progressives (e.g., Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party) are themselves disgusted at the course the Obama administration have taken and strike me as a lot more honest and at least capable of doing good in certain areas (e.g., civil liberties), as compared to either the Democratic or the Republican establishments.

I certainly do not see in Romney/Ryan or the Republican establishment the barest shred of “the view that government is limited by the rights of the individual, and that most of civilization is built by free people acting in the market.” Romney’s incessant ads in Nevada about how he opposes Barack Obama’s “threats” to Social Security and Medicare are a case in point; he is just another establishment campaigner who tells various segments of the electorate what they want to hear, and portrays his rival as a terrible menace. But more importantly, the Republican establishment has shown that it not only cares little for individual rights in theory – but it is ready to trample upon them in practice, through the fraudulent and sometimes violent manner in which supporters of Gary Johnson and Ron Paul were effectively disenfranchised during the nominating process and – at the Republican National Convention – were met with a “rule change” (adopted over the loud objections of the delegates) that will effectively bar grassroots delegate selection in perpetuity. The Republican Party, by preventing even their previously most ardent grassroots supporters from rising to positions of prominence in future elections, has closed itself off from any connection with individuals or the free market. It has become the party of oligarchic elites – the party of crony corporatism and entrenched political favoritism. To be sure, the Republican Party does need its “useful idiots” to mobilize mass fervor against the Democrats and win elections. Hence, the Republican establishment fails to quell xenophobic, theocratic, and racist bigotries (e.g., the oft-repeated claims that Obama is an atheist Muslim who was not born in the United States). Even though the Republican elites are too intelligent to fall for such nonsense themselves, they are too callously manipulative and devoid of principles to discourage sentiments that may be politically useful to them.

Dr. Steele writes that “conservatives are far more skeptical of government than are progressives” – but this refers to a conservative movement that was perhaps of this sort some thirty years ago during the Reagan era (in rhetoric at least), but not at all today. While Dr. Steele asserts that “the Republican Party is the party of skepticism about government”, the Republican Party gave us unprecedented expansions of federal-government power during the George W. Bush era. Indeed, a principal observation regarding  the Obama administration’s deleterious effects for liberty is that Obama has built upon the foundation that George W. Bush created, with few material departures. Today’s Republican Party is a mix of neoconservatism, theoconservatism, crony corporatism, and pop-conservatism. Libertarianism is not a material component of the Republican agenda – other than occasional lip service to libertarians during election years – just to get their vote. Every election season, the Republican Party courts libertarians, and every time it has electoral success, it simply discards any pretense at pursuing even a quasi-libertarian agenda. When was the last time that a Republican victory has brought about any policy shifts in a remotely libertarian direction?  In the face of such repeated bait-and-switch tactics, how many times does it take to learn not to fall for them again? How many times do good libertarians need to be deceived by entrenched political elites who have no intention of diminishing the scope of their power?

Dr. Steele contrasts the Democratic and Republican platforms, but even the shreds of pro-liberty sentiment in the Republican platform were hard-won from the establishment by the tireless activity of Ron Paul’s supporters on various Republican committees. These friends of liberty were faced with procedural manipulations and threats from the establishment for attempting to introduce pro-liberty platform planks, and it is certainly salutary that they succeeded. But they were able to plant a few saplings of liberty into extremely hostile soil. The Republican establishment will never accept libertarians and will try, at every turn, to undo these hard-won gains. Attempting to accommodate the Republican establishment will turn libertarians into mere tools for specific establishment aims – as exemplified by the case of Rand Paul, who was largely ignored by Romney after achieving the useful (to Romney) goal of splitting the Ron Paul movement by endorsing Romney. Rand Paul was merely given a speech at the Republican National Convention – but that was largely it in terms of his “gains” from the endorsement. The liberty movement certainly did not gain even that much, as no policy victories were won by Rand Paul’s action. Another potential approach, that of overruling the establishment and “taking over” the party, has become close to impossible after the National Convention, and so the only reasonable course of action left to libertarians is to abandon any connection to the Republican Party and act entirely outside of its confines.

On the matter of free speech, Dr. Steele writes about the threat of Jim McGovern’s proposed “People’s Rights Amendment”, which would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. While this proposed amendment is certainly problematic, I do not see a direct connection between it and Barack Obama. Certainly, some high-profile Democrats support it, but that is no guarantee that it would pass or that Obama would endorse it if he received a second term. As an analogy, numerous Republicans have voiced support for overturning the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion (including through the means of “right to life” Constitutional amendments – and Republican candidates for President have often endorsed this course of action far more vocally than Obama has ever commented on the Citizens United decision. Yet Republicans elected to office are virtually powerless to do anything about Roe v. Wade, due to the vestiges of the separation of powers that remain. There are dire ways in which free speech is being eroded in the United States, but campaign finance is one of the least concerning areas in this respect. I am far more disturbed by the violent suppression of peaceful political protests (e.g., the pepper-spraying incident at University of California Davis in November 2011, for which the University has now offered to generously compensate the victims), as well as the overarching surveillance state which is emerging due to the domestic “War on Terror”. Internet monitoring of the sort contemplated by CISPA and the National Security Agency’s planned data center in Utah would surely have a chilling effect on free expression online. Likewise, the intimidation and harassment that some of Romney’s supporters have directed at supporters of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson certainly are not helping the cause of free speech. As someone who personally experienced such attacks, I would certainly not trust the attackers’ candidate of choice with safeguarding my rights under the First Amendment.

Dr. Steele is also concerned about the purported Democratic opposition to the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. Yet the right to bear arms is one area in which liberty has actually made progress over the past decade – and this progress has largely been untouched by Obama during his first term in office. While the Democratic platform may call for some restrictions on gun ownership, even this language is mild compared to the rhetoric of the gun-control movement in the 20th century (particularly prior to the decline of crime rates in the 1990s).  Due to Supreme Court decisions such as Heller and concealed-carry laws in various states, widespread gun ownership has been subject to fewer legal restrictions in recent times, coinciding with the continued drop in rates of violent crime. This recognition that liberalization of gun laws did not lead to crime increases, combined with the extreme strength of interest groups such as the National Rifle Association, should keep at bay any attempts to limit Second Amendment rights at the federal level – no matter which party controls the Presidency. The greatest threat to gun-ownership rights remains at the local level, particularly at educational institutions that attempt to impose “gun-free” zones where not even teachers and administrators can bring weapons that could deter potential shooters and immediately disable any who are not deterred.

Regarding PPACA/Obamacare/federal Romneycare, Dr. Steele responds to my argument that Romney would not veto it by stating that “the PPACA is much hated by the Republican base (for that matter the majority of Americans dislike it).  A repeal would be extremely popular.  It’s simply incredible to think that a President Romney would defy his party and practically 100% of his supporters in order to save Barack Obama’s hallmark program. “ Dr. Steele “can’t imagine anything else he could do that would make him more likely to lose the GOP nomination in 2016.” This assumes, however, that the political base matters to Republicans like Romney to any greater extent than as vessels for whipping up sentiment and winning elections. It is much more likely that the Republican Party strategists will rely on the perceived political amnesia of the masses and will hope that the public in 2016 will have forgotten any promises to repeal PPACA. Romney has already anticipated this behavior and publicly backtracked on his promise to repeal PPACA and stated that there are many portions that he would retain. Most likely, the worst part of PPACA – the individual mandate – which Obama initially opposed but was persuaded by politically powerful health insurers to include, will be among the parts that Romney – being the representative of corporate cronyism that he is – will retain. It is true that Romney might support some partial reforms to PPACA, but if the individual mandate remains, then these reforms would amount to a mere reorientation of PPACA in an even more corporatist direction, rather than a repeal or a movement toward a more free-market outcome. Under Romney, there might be fewer requirements and restrictions regarding the behavior of health insurers – but, in the status quo, those mandates and restrictions largely have the effect of partially (and, in the fashion of Mises’s “dynamic of interventionism”, with severe unintended negative consequences) compensating for the pernicious effects of the individual mandate. A Romney-style amended PPACA might simply enable health insurers to exploit their new captive clientele with few limitations or checks.

Dr. Steele writes that “it’s not clear that Romneycare and Obamacare really are the same thing, despite a similar basic framework. The Massachusetts bill signed by Romney was different from that which was implemented.  Romney used his line item veto on a number of the more draconian parts of the bill.  The Democratic legislature overrode these vetoes, and the bill was implemented by a Democratic governor who further altered it.  Furthermore, at the time Romney signed the bill, the situation in Massachusetts insurance markets was far worse than perhaps anywhere else in the United States.  In this context, Romneycare – at least Romney’s version of it – was arguably an improvement over the status quo in Massachusetts.  Thus when Romney argues that the reform might have been right for Massachusetts but not for America in general, he’s not necessarily being disingenuous.”

The best way to determine how similar or different Romneycare is from Obamacare is to consult the economist who designed both, Jonathan Gruber, who recently stated regarding the individual mandates of the two systems in particular, that “They are very similar […] They aren’t the same exact mandate, but they have the same basic structure.” Because the individual mandate is by far the most pernicious part of PPACA, this is enough of a similarity to make Obamacare and Romneycare fundamentally more alike than not. It is also appropriate to consider the statements made by Romney. As is typical with Romney, he vacillates on the matter of whether Obamacare does or does not resemble Romneycare, but he did praise Obama for incorporating elements of Romneycare into PPACA. In April 2012, Romney even explicitly praised the individual mandate! The distinctions that Romney makes are that (1) Romney’s plan was state-based rather than federal (as if he had a choice as Governor of Massachusetts – and besides, bad ideas have to start somewhere, and Massachusetts was Gruber’s training ground), (2) that Romney’s plan did not raise taxes (which is false; Alex Seitz-Wald points out that the penalties for failing to purchase insurance, which the Supreme Court has now ruled to be taxes, were higher under Romneycare), (3) that Romney’s plan did not cut Medicare (again, a defense of the Medicare status quo on Romney’s part), and (4) that Romney’s plan did not include price controls (but Massachusetts does impose price controls now, as Ben Domenech points out – and this may have been Romneycare’s logical evolution).

Dr. Steele also writes regarding the possibility that Obama would appoint “democratic constitutionalist” justices to the Supreme Court, which would result in the spread of “the notion that our Constititutional rights should not be considered “absolute” sense, but rather subject to international norms.” Dr. Steele believes that “Romney is unlikely to draw from this crowd, and far more likely to draw from judges with at least some sympathy for the new federalism.” While I certainly prefer the interpretation which Dr. Steele calls the “new federalism” over “democratic constitutionalism”, I see this particular clash of interpretations as too many steps removed from the outcome of a Presidential election. To be sure, the President may appoint Supreme Court justices, but that is all. How the justices subsequently rule is out of the President’s hands. Indeed, it was the George W. Bush appointee John Roberts who cast the deciding vote to uphold the constitutionality of PPACA’s individual mandate. The 2005 Kelo v. City of New London eminent-domain decision was joined by George H. W. Bush appointee David Souter and Ronald Reagan appointee Anthony Kennedy. And, as I previously pointed out, the Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders decision of April 2012 was entirely the doing of the “conservative” bloc (including Anthony Kennedy). If the “new federalism” of these judges considers strip searches without criminal suspicion or material risk posed by the individual being searched to be constitutional, then perhaps it is not that strong of a safeguard of our liberties after all. But largely, my point is that any given Supreme Court justice is too much of an unknown quantity upon appointment for one to be able to make any decisions regarding the appointer on the basis of whom he might potentially, conceivably appoint – that is, if a vacancy appears in the first place and if the Senate would confirm that appointment.

Regarding which candidate is more anti-entrepreneur, Dr. Steele writes that “Mr. Stolyarov suggests that Romney is anti-entrepreneur in practice, but it is small entrepreneurs who are most hurt by regulation.  Large established firms have teams of lawyers and accountants and frequently can benefit from gaming the rules; in practice, Obama is a greater threat to entrepreneurship.” But it is precisely the large established firms that will be explicitly favored by a Romney administration – as evidenced by Romney’s support for the various bailouts and “stimulus” plans of 2008-2009. (Incidentally, it was Romney who said during the first Romney-Obama debate that “You couldn’t have people opening up banks in their — in their garage and making loans.” This is clearly a statement of opposition to small entrepreneurship and an expression of desire to protect entrenched large financial firms from competition by innovative startups.) The only difference between Obama and Romney is that, while Obama supports subsidies to “alternative” businesses (and financial firms), Romney supports subsidies to “traditional” businesses (and financial firms) – combined with a heavy dose of mercantilist protectionism (evidenced by numerous Romney campaign flyers sent out in Nevada about how Obama is allegedly “selling out” the United States to China by endorsing foreign-made products). Romney is the candidate of politically connected Wall Street firms and large banks (who also hedge their bets by donating large amounts of money to the Democratic Party). If he is elected, these entities will be free to continue to enrich themselves at taxpayers’ expense, while socializing their losses. Bailouts and labyrinthine federal rules are key to the continuation of this exploitation of taxpayers by connected financial firms – and Romney is virtually certain to encourage the proliferation of such measures.

Dr. Steele writes that “Romney and Ryan have been willing to put forward the idea that entitlement programs as they exist are unsustainable and must be radically restructured.  Obama assures us this won’t happen.” Yet it is Romney/Ryan whose ads continually denounce Obama for “threatening” Social Security and Medicare and promise that Romney/Ryan will not take those benefits away but will rather “strengthen” those programs. Gary Johnson, when observing the first Romney-Obama debate, repeatedly pointed out that the two candidates were in competition regarding who could make more extravagant promises to preserve Medicare. I agree that the federal entitlement programs are unsustainable, but Romney, like Obama, is happy to argue for their perpetual existence as a way of gaining votes in the short term – at the expense of long-term prudence.

On taxation, Dr. Steele writes that “Obama has stated a clear preference for increases in marginal rates on higher income earners, higher corporate taxes, and an increasing number of tax breaks, this last for purposes of social engineering (a.k.a. buying votes).  Romney has endorsed a reduction in marginal rates and a broadening on the base by eliminating deductions and exemptions.  The latter approach reduces the economic distortions of taxation and also returns it to the purpose of collecting revenue, rather than shaping citizens’ behavior to match politicians’ goals.” While I certainly do not support Obama’s approach (or any tax increases at all), it is not at all clear that Romney’s approach is preferable – especially since, as Dr. Steele acknowledges, we do not know quite what it entails, and Romney keeps contradicting himself regarding its contents. What we do know for certain, though, is that Romney’s planned massive increases to military spending are mathematically irreconcilable with any sensible fiscal policy or any description of Romney’s tax plan. If fiscal responsibility is to be the deciding issue of this election, then Obama might even be preferable to Romney because while Obama’s budget plan aims to increase military spending very slightly, Romney’s plan would lead it to skyrocket. Ultimately, unsustainable foreign entanglements have led to the United States’ budget surplus from the late 1990s turning into a massive deficit. Without significantly curtailing American military spending and engagements abroad, resolving the current fiscal mess is impossible. The Economist points out that, more generally, Romney’s statements are mathematically incoherent, and his tax plan, as publicly presented, would not be able to solve the United States’ fiscal problems without significant tax increases on middle-income-earners.

Dr. Steele concluded his essay with some thoughtful caveats, and I would also like to mention a few of my own, though they cannot be said to arise from any virtues on Romney’s part. First, a Romney victory could galvanize Democrats to behave in a manner more reminiscent of the George W. Bush era, during which many of them actually opposed American foreign entanglements and expressed outrage at violations of civil liberties. As Glenn Greenwald points out, Obama’s election has led many of Obama’s supporters to become blind to the administration’s abuses of civil liberties at home and abroad. Perhaps, if the Democrats again become the party of the opposition, the old civil-liberties sentiments could be revived and strengthened (even if only to be used as a tool of political convenience against the Republicans). Second, Romney and Obama might both be mere figureheads of a larger political establishment: the “bipartisan” consensus – implemented by a federal bureaucracy whose operations do not shift due to a change in leadership, and existing to serve elites whose real power arises from connections and does not depend on particular formal titles. If this is the case, then Obama’s or Romney’s individual presence or influence in office might not amount to much at all. Therefore, the outcomes in terms of policy might be the same irrespective of which one of them wins. Third, interestingly enough, a similar irrelevance might be anticipated if Dr. Steele is correct in stating that “If elections and political processes do anything in this regard [expanding liberty], it will be simply to respond to and formalize advances made by civil society.” In that case, a politician who seeks to retain office would have little choice but to succumb to the pressures of civil society sooner or later, and the party in power does not matter so much, except possibly with regard to the timing and tone of that acquiescence. (An example of this is the recent initially reluctant but subsequently strong expression of support for legalized same-sex marriage by Barack Obama, who originally campaigned against it, but whose hand was essentially forced by the public discourse of the issue.)

Yet, with all this said, I can anticipate one major harm of a Romney victory that might outweigh all possible incidental benefits. That harm is the normalization of lying in American politics. As I discussed above and in Part 1 of my response, Romney is a different breed of politician, in that he does not have a shred of consistency on virtually any issue – and is willing to lie even when lying is not necessary to gain him political advantage. A Romney victory would convey a clear signal to the electorate and to political pundits and strategists that facts do not matter and honesty does not matter in politics. Of course it is true that many politicians today make false promises and selectively portray the truth; Romney is far from the first. But the overt factual falsehoods stated by Romney and Ryan are a different and more egregious sort of lies from the false promises, vague generalities, and dissembling characteristic of more “traditional” American politicians. A Romney victory would complete the transformation of American elections into reality shows with much rhetoric and fanfare, but no substance; it would finalize the disconnect between the basis for the people’s decisions in electing a candidate and the actual policies that candidate implements (based, presumably, on consideration of more reliable and accurate information than the nonsense disseminated on the campaign trail). A Romney victory would cement the unfortunate conviction of many on the political Right in the United States that they are entitled not just to their own opinions, but also to their own facts (which may, in Orwellian fashion, morph into their diametrical opposites based on the political agenda du jour). I am reminded here of Mises’s discussion in Human Action of the errors of polylogism. A Romney victory would create a peculiar sort of “Republican logic” or “conservative logic” that employs “Republican facts” or “conservative facts” that differ from the objective facts which, well, happen to be true. Already, the derision aimed at fact-checking organizations by many on the Right today foreshadows this unfortunate possibility – which would render the entire conservative movement (and any libertarians who ally with it) a historical irrelevancy and laughingstock, but not before it inflicts tremendous human suffering in the manner of virtually every major polylogist movement in history.

This brings me to the last point of discussion with Dr. Steele, the matter (discussed in the comments of my Part 1) of whether the Romney campaign has misrepresented the Obama administration’s approach to work requirements for welfare eligibility. I note that this is a matter on which a wide spectrum of sources are unanimous – including The Washington Post (which leans Republican), ABC News, and NPR. PolitiFact (which also leans rightward) has called the Romney campaign’s statements on this matter “pants on fire” lies.

Dr. Steele writes that “Robert Rector, one of the authors of the original reform act, has given a detailed and careful argument for why he considers the move by Obama’s HHS move a gutting of the requirements.” It seems that Rector actually originated the claim that the HHS memorandum of July 12, 2012, would “gut” welfare reform. This is his blog post of the same day, making that claim. It is clear that, akin to the dynamics of the game of “telephone”, the Romney campaign took Rector’s statements and exaggerated them further to claim that Obama’s administration has already “announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements” – when in fact no such plan has been made,  no waivers of any nature have been requested or granted, and the HHS memorandum specifically cautioned against dropping work requirements. Rector (unlike the Romney campaign) at least provides some details for his interpretation, but it appears to be one remote hypothetical possibility among many, at best, and it is at odds with the explicit statements of the Obama administration that work requirements will not be dropped. Another of the authors of the TANF program, Ron Haskins, stated to NPR that “There’s no plausible scenario under which it [the HHS memorandum] really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform.” The NPR article perceptively observes: “So why continue beating this drum? Partly because people believe it.” This is a prominent illustration of the cynical and manipulative conduct of the Romney campaign. Facts do not matter to Romney and Ryan; the public appeal of any particular message – even if it is factually false – does.

Dr. Steele also writes that GAO has declared that contrary to what the Obama administration has argued, HHS has overstepped its bounds in this matter and by law must submit the proposed changes to Congress.” Yet the GAO letter does not comment on the practical effects of the HHS’s waiver authority on work requirements. It simply states that the HHS’s attempts to exercise such authority constitute a “rule” under the Administrative Procedures Act, and that this “rule” must be submitted to Congress for its approval. Perhaps it must. Yet this is not, per se, support for the contention that Obama has “gutted” welfare work requirements.

Furthermore, the American Conservative Union article linked by Dr. Steele states that “No state has submitted a waiver request. Nor have any been approved. The GAO report has effectively blocked all Sebelius-led changes to TANF work requirements, but what would have it have done [sic]? The specific changes would vary from state to state, depending on whether a state requests a waiver and whether HHS approves the proposed new methods.“ This is precisely the opposite of the Romney campaign’s contention that the Obama administration “gutted” welfare work requirements. First, no actual waivers have even been granted, so any “gutting” is hypothetical only. Second, if any waivers are to be granted, the specific changes would vary by state and would largely depend on what a particular state requests. Again, it is entirely unwarranted to leap from the ability of a state to request a waiver of certain specific methods to the presupposition that the waiver would entail an elimination of work requirements altogether (which elimination is contrary to federal law in any case).

To conclude, I reiterate my question of why Romney is even emphasizing this non-issue so strongly – when there is a myriad of actual atrocious infringements of liberty by the Obama administration which could be used to legitimately denounce Obama’s first term? The only reason that suggests itself is that Romney would commit more of the same infringements, and any differences with Obama are superficial only.