Thursday, January 19, 2012

I cannot support Gary Johnson, Libertarian

I spoke in support of Gary Johnson when he ran as a Republican but I cannot support his run within the Libertarian Party. In essence, I agree with Ari Armstrong recent post on The Objective Standard Blog, though of course my views on the Libertarian Party go back to the more detailed Peter Schwartz essay, which was reprinted in the excellent collection of essays The Voice of Reason. Of course the immediate retort will be that the Republican and Democratic Parties are in their own way as bad or worse than the Libertarian Party and I don't deny that. However, that will not make me vote for a candidate running under the Libertarian banner. There is a good chance I will again abstain from voting for President as I did in the previous election.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why I support Gary Johnson for President

I have followed American presidential elections closely since 1988. I abstained in voting for a President in 1988 and 1992 because I wasn't a US citizen yet but I would have abstained even if I could vote. In 2000, I did think Al Gore deserved defeat and because I mistakenly trusted Bush on his no-nation building pledge, I voted for Bush in 2000. With considerably less excuse, but still thinking that Bush would do something further with respect to the radical Islamic threat, while Kerry would appease the world, I voted for Bush a second time. Bush, of course, ended up disappointing me.

During all these previous elections the Republican candidates were always religious or at least giving extensive lip-service to religion which at minimum means opposing the right to abortion and more recently opposing Gay marriage. All this, while at the same time not doing anything significant to cut the size of government. Yes, minor tax cuts were proposed and passed but all that meant was that we would have to borrow more to support an increasing government size with less government revenue. And George W. Bush was the worst in that respect, actually adding new departments of government and proposing major new government initiatives, while Republicans in Congress went on an unprecedented spending spree.

From a rational perspective what are the priorities of government that one would wish a candidate would stand for at this particular time? If people in society were already strongly supportive of Objectivist ideas then nothing less than a completely principled candidate would do and it would be wrong to vote for anything less. But while there have been some very encouraging intellectual trends in recent years, particularly in terms of the tea party movement but also in terms of a greater awareness of the threat of Islamic terrorism, we are still some decades or even generations from an society dominated by Objectivist ideas the way our current society is still dominated by so-called liberal ideas.

Over the last 10 years or so two issues should have dominated the political scene: The 9/11 and its aftermath in terms of foreign and defense policy (as well as affecting domestic policy if one takes into account the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA and the "Patriot" act). The financial crisis and its aftermath in terms of domestic policy.

While 9/11 was not the first Islamic terrorist attack on US soil, it was obviously the worst, with a death toll rivaling the Pearl Harbor. Thus it was no surprise that unlike previous attacks which were largely disregarded, this one resulted in two wars: Afghanistan and Iraq. In a way, what was a surprise is that no further mass casualty attack followed since that time (though of course numerous attempts were made and several smaller scale actions did result in deaths).

Both the Afghanistan and Iraq were initially presented as wars of self-defense, yet were fought in a manner and quickly became focused on altruistic purposes of our fighting for the sake of the Afghans or Iraqis and saving them from their oppressors. After a near-civil war, we managed to bribe enough people in Iraq to temporarily "stabilize" the situation, while in Afghanistan, due to the inadequacy of the initial war effort the Taliban simply relocated to Pakistan and continues to harass the weak Karzai government while US troops are still engaged in nation building efforts.

All this while the source and inspiration of the overall conflict between totalitarian Islam and Western Civilization in Iran and Saudi Arabia is largely ignored.

The financial crisis started with government housing and banking policies which led to a financial collapse. This resulted in the so-called "great recession" which we are still experiencing with official national unemployment still around 9% and unofficial "underemployment" at 18.2%. The response to the crisis was spending, spending, and more spending, as well as an easy money monetary policy. This substantially increased the deficit as well as the national debt which was already reaching records during the Bush administration. There has also been a growing awareness that with the growing debt and given the government obligations to pay for so-called "entitlement" programs (such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) there will come a point at which the United States will be literally bankrupt -- it simply won't be able to pay all its bills.

All these problems are a result of the fact we have moved far away from the proper role and functions of government, which should be limited to protecting individual rights.

Which brings me to Gary Johnson. I have spent the last few weeks investigating Johnson's positions on all the major and minor issues. Gary Johnson is clearly not beholden to the religious right. He supports a woman's right to an abortion (up to the point of viability), is in favor of civil unions for all couples, straight or gay, and wants the government to get out of the marriage business.

Johnson is in favor of marijuana legalization, arguing that " it is insane to arrest roughly 800,000 people a year for choosing to use a natural substance that is, by any reasonable objective standard, less harmful than alcohol, a drug that is advertised at every major sporting event."

Most importantly, Johnson is promising to submit a balanced budget in 2013. That would mean cutting 43 cents out of every dollar we are spending now. I know of no other candidate that is proposing this (with the possible exception of Ron Paul who has far greater negatives than Johnson). And he is proposing replacing the income tax (and thereby abolishing the IRS) with the fair tax.

He also supports open immigration, proposing to convert all current illegal immigrants to have a work visa so that they can work here legally. All people seeking to immigrate this country could do so after a simple background check.

He supports stopping the nation building by withdrawing from both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unfortunately, the latter bespeaks of his weakest position. He does not seem to recognize the continuing threat from Iran. While he supports the alliance with Israel, he argues that "there is no military threat from Iran. We should be vigilant to that military threat, but I don’t see it." This is strange understanding of "threat". He suggests that because we vastly outspend the rest of the world we have little to worry about from Iran and the main thing we can do to keep Iran in check is to support Israel.

While his support for Israel is laudatory, the fact is that the current regime in Iran has been attacking us beginning with the 1979 embassy taking, through the embassy and marine barracks bombings in Lebanon, the hostage takings in Lebanon, the Khobar towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, and most recently its support for the attacks on US troops by the insurgents in Iraq as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Gary Johnson supported the war in Afghanistan, saying that "we were attacked, we attacked back" -- that suggest that he will do no worse than any other Republican candidate in protecting this country. Let's face it -- is there a Republican candidate out there who upon coming into office would list the facts about Iran's aggression and war making I listed above and declare war against Iran? Not even John Bolton would do this. Johnson is being honest here: He will defend us if we are attacked and he will support our allies in defending themselves as well as ourselves (presumably the way Israel did recently in attacking and destroying the Syrian nuclear plant). His position is not ideal but arguably not significantly worse than any other candidate.

Furthermore, while unlike Johnson I initially supported the Iraq war, I have very come to very much regret my support for this war because in the way it was handled and how played out it set back the cause of a self-interested, rational foreign policy for decades. Also, I think a significant reduction in our overseas military presence is long overdue. Yes, we are a global trading power and we should certainly ensure that our trade is not interfered with whether by pirates as near the coast of Somalia, or other threats. But our allies, who are far from poor, need to pick up much more of the cost, particularly in soldiers. Other than in exceptional cases, I would not expect the American military to fight to defend non-Americans.

It is clear that Johnson is the best Republican candidate out there particularly from a budget and tax perspective but also in terms of excellent positions on immigration, drug policy, and social issues. His foreign policy positions weaker, yet seem to be little worse than those of other major candidates. I will support him for the Republican nomination and if he achieves it will support him for US President.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Debate on Government (and the Nature of Man)

I very much enjoyed watching today's First Principles debate between Ayn Rand Institute President Yaron Brook and Demos President Miles Rapoport on "Government: What is its proper role?". The event was announced, advertised, and livestreamed on Facebook, yet another example of the many benefits of this at times maligned forum.

As an aside, it is interesting to recall that back in the 1980s John Ridpath, Harry Binswanger, and other Objectivists would participate in debates. However, the debates were between Objectivists and Marxists. Watching the debates back then (which were also quite good) I always thought that a much more relevant debate would be between an Objectivist and a welfare-statists, i.e., a liberal. Well, the views of Mr. Rapoport were indeed those of an run of the mill welfare-statist. We have come a long way from debating Marxists.

But something else struck me about this debate. Mr. Rapoport kept coming back to the issue of rich vs. poor. A free society (free of regulations) would allow only a few rich people to flourish. It seems clear that Mr. Rapoport thinks that the majority of individuals in society are helpless without the endless series of government programs and regulations that he supports and would either die or live out their miserable lives in severe poverty unable to rise above subsistence that the only rich might grant them. Yaron Brook had a far more optimistic view of human capabilities.

This contrast reminded me of Dennis Prager's oft repeated contention that one of the basic differences between liberals and conservatives is that liberals think people are basically good, while conservatives are considerably less sanguine about the inherent nature of man. I have never quite accepted that that was in fact the basic difference between these two camps. It always seemed to me there were other, more important issues here. The contrasting views of Brook and Rapoport have given me a lead to what I think is a more basic issue, at least between liberals and Objectivists.

Liberals think man, the individual, is weak and helpless. Yes, there might be a few "supermen" out there who could flourish under any conditions but the vast majority of people cannot fend for themselves or stand up for their rights without the protection of a gang. That gang is government and if one takes altruism as one's basic moral code (as all good liberals do) then government must do everything it can to help the majority weak as against the minority strong. Thus force is necessary to fight off the strong who would otherwise walk all over the weak.

By contrast, Objectivists think that man, at his essence, is strong and capable. Yes, there might be a few men who cannot fend for themselves but they are easily taken care of through the generosity of the vast majority of strong, independent men. Most men will flourish by their own actions and via trade to mutual advantage with other men. The only issue that government must address is the banishment of force from human relations so that only free voluntary cooperation is allowed. The banishment of force, and thus, protection of individual rights, follows naturally from an egoistic ethics in which the moral purpose of each individual is the fulfillment of his life, and therefore the role of government is limited to the protection of the free action of each individual in pursuing of his own happiness.

It is heartening that the debate was well attended online there were upwards of 850 viewers of the live stream. I am very much looking forward to the next debate which will take place on April 7, 2011 and in which the topic will be "Freedom: For Whom and from What?".

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Activism: Israel Solidarity Rally in Los Angeles

I attended the Israel Solidarity Rally in Los Angeles today wearing a "Who is John Galt?" t-shirt and handed out Ayn Rand Center literature in the form of a still relevant Elan Journo article. This was my first rally in recent memory and certainly the first one I remember where I handed out literature. I had about 100 copies of the article to hand out and had 8 left when I departed. Most people were friendly and receptive to Ayn Rand. Many came up to me and said they had read her before and enjoyed it. Some were curious who John Galt was and, of course, I encouraged them to read the relevant book. One person said he had seen Ayn Rand speak many years ago during one of her last public appearances. I met PJTV personality Joe Hicks who also took a copy. I had one or two negative responses as well but nothing too drastic. I'm not sure how to estimate crowds but I guess it must have been in the hundreds, perhaps low thousands. Governor Schwarzenegger spoke, Jacob Dayan, the head of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, as well as others, including Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, though the sound was bad and most speakers were difficult to hear.

Here are some pictures from the event.

A couple of signs I found interesting:

After I took somebody's picture, I asked them to take mine:

Saturday, May 08, 2010

On the Failure of the Current US War Strategy

Barry Rubin recently wrote a very important blog post entitled "What's Wrong--and Dangerously So--With U.S. Strategic Policy in the Middle East". In the post he praised two important articles highly critical of US strategy, which originated with the Bush administration and is now still substantially continued by the Obama administration. Echoing themes that are detailed in Elan Journo's Winning the Unwinnable War, as well as John David Lewis' Nothing Less than Victory (I highly recommend both books!!!) , the articles decry the counterinsurgency methods of General Petraeus, as well as the continued refusal of the US to strive for victory by making the sources of the problem, namely Iran and its allies pay for their instigation . Rubin writes that in retrospect:
All these points will be very clear in 20 or 30 years as people look back on these mistakes but are powerless to change them. It would be far better if they were understood and corrected right now.
The first article referenced is Spengler's General Petraeus' Thirty Years War (Spengler is an alias for David P. Goldman, senior editor of First Things). Goldman argues that the apparent stability created by arming the various militias in Iraq and elsewhere is a big mistake:
Petraeus created a balance of power between Sunnis and Shi'ites by reconstructing the former's fighting capacity, while persuading pro-Iranian militants to bide their time. To achieve this balance of power, though, he built up Sunni military power to the point that - for the first time in Iraq's history - Sunnis and Shi'ites are capable of fighting a full-dress civil war with professional armed forces. "Nation-building" in Iraq failed to construct any function feature of civil society - a concept hitherto unknown to Mesopotamia - except, of course, for the best-functioning organized groups of killers that Iraq ever has had.
Read the whole article, in which Goldman covers the ominous implications of similar policies in the Palestinian territories.

The second article, published on Michael J. Totten's blog, is Lee Smith's The Trouble with Proxy Wars. In a key paragraph Smith writes:
If the Iranians are capable of heating up Iraq, if they are able to embark on a broad campaign including both political and military aspects, then the US did not win in Iraq. The test of victory is simply whether or not you are capable of imposing terms on your adversaries; if you can’t, if rather they shape your strategic decisions -- e.g., if they determine your security environment by funding, arming and training militias -- then you have not won. Or think of it like this: after VE Day what capacity did the Nazis have to heat things up for US troops in France and Italy and consequently determine US strategy? American society may have changed during the last half century so that we no longer know how to describe victory, but the objective standards for defining victory have not changed, nor have they changed at any time during the course of human history. The Iranians are able to shape our regional strategy because we did not win. [emphasis added]
Smith's article is even more important than Goldman because it drives at what ought to be the key goal in a war: Victory.

Update 11:48am: Fixed grammar.

Friday, April 30, 2010


Blogger Gus van Horn has published an excellent op-ed at Pajamas Media on the topic of the recent Arizona law on illegal immigration. Gus writes:
SB 1070 deserves only one fundamental criticism: It would fail to protect the individual rights of American citizens –even if it hermetically sealed our borders and the police never touched a single American hair in the process of enforcing it. This is because the biggest headaches attributed to illegal immigration are not caused by it at all.
The biggest headaches are the freebies as well as restrictive laws that the government provides and imposes. I commented on the article as follows:
Gus van Horn has it right! I appreciate that most of the people of Arizona are not racist and do not hate Hispanics but the net effect of their law is to impose an unjustifiable burden on anybody who will seem suspicious to the police. The problem, as Gus points out, is the number of freebies our government provides as well drug laws that generate crime, as well as laws that require the provision of services without pay, not illegal immigration as such. The freebies and laws create unnecessary but justifiable resentment. We should work to phase out these items so that no one pays for other people’s education or other service unwillingly and so that our freedoms are no longer restricted. Residency (though not citizenship, which should be a much longer process) should be an option available to all newcomers who want it, barring obvious infectious disease, or other danger to the public such as terrorism.
For a couple more detailed presentations of the rational case for immigration see the following:

Immigration Quotas vs. Individual Rights: The Moral and Practical Case for Open Immigration by Harry Binswanger

Immigration and Individual Rights by Craig Biddle

UPDATE 4/30/2010 8:20AM:
See also The Rights of Man, the Privileges of Citizen, a very good clarifying on this topic by blogger Jim May of The New Clarion.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Peikoff-Kelley Dispute

Those new to Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism are no doubt a bit mystified by the fact that there appear to be two rival "camps" that both claim to represent and promote Ayn Rand's ideas, namely the Ayn Rand Institute, still influenced by founder Leonard Peikoff, and what is now called The Atlas Society, whose senior intellectual is David Kelley. The dispute between the two sides is now over 20 years old and is certainly not easy to understand for new students of Objectivism.

Fortunately, blogger Roderick Fitts of Inductive Quest, has now written a series of essays that clearly, carefully, and in some detail lay out why Kelley is wrong and Peikoff is right. He has written four parts so far:

Closed vs. Open Part 1: Introduction, and the Issues

Part 2: The History of the Dispute, and the Closed and Open Systems

Part 3: On Moral Judgment

Part 4: Moral Sanction

I think these essays will be useful not only to newcomers but experienced Objectivists as well because they do an excellent job of clarifying and concretizing the issues involved. As someone who has at various points in time struggled with these issues, I highly recommend this series of essays.
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