Archive for December, 2010

28
Dec
10

The “L” Word

Ever since the “Tea Parties” hit the scene, “libertarianism” has garnered a lot of attention. Unfortunately, that means that a lot of frankly absurd stereotypes have been dredged up to describe a political philosophy that most people don’t know anything about. In response to a piece in New York Magazine, Reason’s Radley Balko has put up a couple of posts seeking to dispel some of the more idiotic myths that seem resurface any time someone mentions the word “libertarian”:

Not all libertarians cut their teeth on Ayn Rand. I’ve never been much of a fan. She was important in many ways, detrimental in many others. The drug references were a bit too cute, too. Beam’s reference to Somalia was also silly and cliched. Somalia isn’t a libertarian paradise any more than North Korea is a progressive paradise. That is, libertarians don’t advocate the absence of government any more than progressives advocate all-powerful government. We advocate the rule of law. There is no law in Somalia.

[…]

People use the utopia canard  to make libertarianism seem creepy and cultish. Look, politics is a dirty, corrupt profession that rewards people who display the characteristics you least want in someone in whom you entrust important decisions about your life. The general premise of libertarianism is that people should be free to make their own decisions about their lives—that as much of our lives as possible should be kept within the sphere of civil, voluntary society, and out of the sphere of political society. There would still be problems in a libertarian society. There would still be crime, income inequality, acne, nu metal, and reality TV. Most libertarians merely believe that in a libertarian society, most people would be better off than they are now—that being free to make more of your own choices is preferable to having politicians make them for you. Most conservatives and liberals also believe that most people would be better off if their own policy preferences were implemented. That isn’t in the same ballpark as promising utopia. People will still make bad decisions. They should be free to do so.

If anything is utopian, it’s the idea that the world would be much better off if only we put more of society in the hands of a few very smart people who somehow know all the answers.

This seems about right. What’s with all the abject fear and loathing of people who want to leave you alone to pursue the sort of life you want to lead?

[update]

I’m suddenly reminded of this garbage from back in April:

Anarchistic like the Sixties, selfish like the Eighties, contradicting neither, it is estranged, aimless, and as juvenile as our new century. It appeals to petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that. This is the one threat that will bring Americans into the streets.Welcome to the politics of the libertarian mob.

Are you fucking kidding me?

26
Dec
10

Communist Joke of the Day

Q: What were Brezhnev’s last words?

A: “Leave the plug alone, Yuri.”

 

22
Dec
10

“They Meant Well, After All…”

Man, just when I get done yammering about Hugo Chavez and digging up another hilarious joke from the former Soviet Union, I go and check the BBC to find this news:

The European Commission has rebuffed a call from several former Soviet bloc countries for the EU to legislate against the condoning or denial of totalitarian crimes.

[…]

Last week Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis sent a letter to the Commission seeking to criminalise the approval, denial or belittling of communist crimes. He was supported by the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia and Romania.

Continue reading ‘“They Meant Well, After All…”’

22
Dec
10

… And You Thought Hugo Chavez Was the Communist Joke of the Day!

Q: What are the key components of the Soviet space program?

A: German technology, Czech uranium, and a Russian dog.

Laika, in memoriam.

22
Dec
10

You Go, Hugo!

The Council on Foreign Relations has a nice rundown of some of the “organic laws” that Hugo Chavez is pushing through the Venezuelan National Assembly:

The following rundown of the president’s legislative initiatives gives a flavor for how he seeks to cement power:

  • Media and Telecommunications. The modification of the Media Responsibility Law and the Telecommunications Law place severe restrictions on the Internet, centralizing access under the control of a government server. They re-categorize the airwaves as a “public good” and set in place harsh penalties for arcane and obtuse violations of the law. The laws require TV stations to re-apply for their licenses and for the owners to be in the country (a clear reference to Globovision, whose owner, Dr. Guillermo Zuloaga, is in political exile in the United States).
  • Electoral Reform. The reform of the Political Party Law establishes the crime of electoral fraud. Fraud would be committed if a politician changed parties, voted against legislation that was “ideologically represented” by their “electoral offer” (on file when they registered their candidacy with the National Electoral Council), or if they make common cause with ideas or people who are not ideologically akin to their electoral offer. Sanctions are the expulsion from parliament and inability to run for public office for up to eight years. This law is meant to protect against individuals or political parties turning against Chavez, as happened with the opposition parties of PODEMOS (We Can) and PPT (Fatherland for All).
  • Economy and Governance. Chavez is pushing through a block of five laws: Popular Power, Planning and Popular Power, Communes, Social Control, and the law of Development and Support of the Communal Economy. These laws establish the commune as the lowest level of Venezuelan economy and government. They set in place the Popular Power, which is responsible to the Revolutionary leadership (Chavez) for all governing (eliminating the municipalities and regional government’s constitutional mandate). To facilitate the creation of this new governance model, the Assembly is approving the Law of the System for Transferring the Responsibilities of the States and Municipalities to the Popular Power.To cement these new communal laws, the National Assembly is also approving the modification of the Law for the Treasury and National Fiscal Control, cementing the new Popular Power’s role through the nation’s financial management structure.
  • Banking. The modification of the Banking Law makes the banking sector a public utility, setting the stage for potential nationalizations, and forces the banks to donate 5 percent of their profits to a social fund or risk takeover.
  • Universities. Universities in Venezuela have been constitutionally autonomous. The modification of the University Law removes their autonomy, allows the government to influence their leadership (both elected student leaders and board of directors). It requires teaching courses on Popular Power and communes, and focuses the pedagogy around revolutionary principles.

Oh, and then there’s Chavez’s classy new Enabling Act Enabling Act, which gives him the right to rule by decree for the next 18 months:

The National Assembly is also passing an enabling law that allows the president to rule by decree for eighteen months in nine broad areas such as social, economic, territorial, and national security. According to Chavez, he already has the first twenty laws almost ready. While he has not divulged their content, he has made hints that they will focus on the forced acquisition of real estate “to deal with the crisis caused by the rains” as well as an increase in the value-added tax.

This is your socialism. Seems kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

“If only Comrade Stalin knew what was going on…”

21
Dec
10

Communist Joke of the Day

Three prisoners are sitting together in a GULAG barracks in Siberia. They start talking to one another about why they were deported.

The first one says, “I’m here because I always arrived to work 45 minutes late, so they convicted me of sabotage.”

The second one says, “That’s strange, since I’m here because I always arrived to work 45 minutes early, so they convicted me of spying.”

The third one shakes his head and says,  “Well, I’m in because I showed up to work on time every day.  That’s how they they found out I was wearing a contraband watch from the West.”

20
Dec
10

STARTing to Look a Little Stupid

While it hasn’t been grabbing as many headlines as Julian Assange, you might’ve heard about the ongoing battles in Congress regarding what to do with the START nuclear arms treaty with Russia. And really, if you’ve been paying attention, you might be led to believe that this treaty was somehow important. The thing is, it really isn’t. As Cathy Young wrote in Reason a couple weeks ago, the whole thing is a bit of a Cold War relic:

Despite Russia’s recent warnings that failure to ratify the treaty could lead to a new arms race, the simple fact is that the U.S.-Russian nuclear rivalry is not nearly as important or as menacing as it used to be. Russia is no longer a superpower, or a putative ideological competitor to the West. It is a regional power that has to scramble for even local dominance, and that commands far more clout through the strategic use of its oil and gas reserves than through strategic nuclear arms. In the 21st Century, our anxieties about nuclear weapons are focused on small rogue states and stateless terrorists, not on the Kremlin and its missiles.

Even during the Cold War era, arms reduction talks and treaties were little more than a ritual dance whose primary value was symbolic: to show that the two nuclear superpowers were negotiating, compromising, and trying to avoid confrontation…

“Ritual dance” sounds about right. New START negotiations are, at this point, purely symbolic. The treaty reduces each state’s stockpiles by 30%. What’s left is still more than enough to completely destroy the world. But then, that’s not really a worry these days, since there is no reason that Russia or the US would attack the other with nuclear weapons circa 2010. What the treaty does is give President Obama some excuse to talk about how the so-called “reset” with Russia is working and lets him point to a “success” in his asinine crusade for a “nuclear-free world.”

Perhaps more importantly, it gives Russia an excuse to sit at the bargaining table with the US as something resembling an equal, a status that it ceased to enjoy back in 1992.

But if the Russians are still stuck in the Cold War, so too, it seems, are many conservatives, who seem to think that ratifying START somehow jeopardizes American security or encourages the criminality of the Russian government, or… well, something or other… Frankly, I can’t quite understand what the big deal is. If it fails to pass, the Russians will huff and puff and go do whatever they please and the world will continue to spin. If it passes, the Russians will have a minor, meaningless victory… and go back to doing whatever they please and the world will continue to spin. Whether or not a new START treaty is ratified at this point has all the import of the question “do you want room for cream in that?” when you’re ordering a cup of coffee.

To quote Young again:

It now seems that, with the help of some cooperative Republicans, START may win passage after all. This will not be a calamity. But the failure to pass it would not have been particularly calamitous, either—and its victory in Congress will not be the achievement the Obama Administration will undoubtedly tout.

Much ado about nothing.