Archives for posts with tag: Barack Obama

In a show of solidarity, President Barack Obama says he will put 5 percent of his paycheck back into the Treasury. Times are tough. He wants to show that he can take cuts, too. So he’ll whack $20K from his annual take. In effect, “give it back.”

Now, it’s often said that our leaders should take cuts along with the rest of us. They should be first, so to speak. “Feel our pain” by taking similar pains. And since, by law, neither the president nor Congress can actually cut their own salaries — requiring this gesture to be a personal matter, a “gift,” so to speak — the president’s move is right on the money.

And why not give the Prez a nod? Well done.

However. (You knew there’d be a “however,” didn’t you?) Look at those with whom he’s linked his arms.

It’s not the American people, who’ve lost jobs enough to make the real unemployment rate to soar way, way higher than a mere 5 percent. (Taking into account workers who’ve given up on the job search, actual unemployment is over 20 percent.) Many Americans have taken wage cuts, or de facto rate cuts, say by working fewer hours. Profits in small businesses are not exactly booming, either, so the middle class has taken huge hits, too.

No, it’s not for We, the People, that Obama shakes out his loose change.

It’s to federal government employees, especially those hit by the automatic “sequester” cuts that he, himself, helped put in place last year.

Interesting. In classical liberal analysis — as developed by James Mill, Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer — real class warfare takes place between peaceful, productive, co-operative citizens, on the one hand, and the taker class, on the other . . . which breaks down into two distinct groups: criminals and government employees, both relying on expropriation to survive.

At least Obama isn’t siding with the criminals.

After Rand Paul’s filibuster ended, Attorney General Eric Holder responded to the senator’s actual point:

Attorney General Eric Holder said on Thursday that President Barack Obama would not have the authority to order a drone to kill an American citizen on U.S. soil who was “not engaged in combat.”

In a two-sentence letter to Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, Holder said he had heard Paul wanted to know if the president could use a drone to kill an American outside of an emergency situation.

“The answer to that question is no,” Holder wrote.

But consider the whole letter:


The insinuation, here, is that Rand Paul had not asked the pertinent question. He had asked the more general question whether there were any circumstances when the U.S. federal government might use deadly force against civilians using drones. And, in moments of emergency, where the threat is clear and American citizens are in armed revolt or committing acts of terrorism, or acting as innocent shields to those using deadly force, the federal government clearly reserves the right of deadly force in defense and immediate retaliation. Holder’s earlier, evasive response — as well as the president’s comments that he had “no intention” of using drones on Americans on American soil — referenced this idea.

Which, during the filibuster, and after, Paul said he had never denied. Of Holder’s first letter, the Kentucky senator says “Attorney General Eric Holder answered a question we weren’t asking.”

While I understand Sen. Rand Paul’s intent, here — and I think it was always in evidence — his wording has not always been crystalline. Consider his second letter to Brennan:

The question that I and many others have asked is not whether the Administration has or intends to carry out drone strikes inside the United States, but whether it believes it has the authority to do so. This is an important distinction that should not be ignored.

Just last week, President Obama also avoided this question when posed to him directly. Instead of addressing the question of whether the Administration could kill a U.S. citizen on American soil, he used a similar line that “there has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil.” The evasive replies to this valid question from the Administration have only confused the issue further without getting us any closer to an actual answer.

For that reason, I once again request you answer the following question: Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial?

I believe the only acceptable answer to this is no.

Notice: Rand Paul does not here distinguish between drone strikes against actively insurrectionist Americans and those thought to be cooking up such apparent misdeeds. Most Americans probably want the federal government actively and forcefully opposing — perhaps with drone strikes — those engaging in revolt or terrorism, while many (certainly not all) of us would definitely not want drone strikes against suspects as they go about their daily and apparently peaceful routines.

So, it appears that some of the ambiguities in what Obama and Holder have said is the result of Rand Paul not being clear.

Does this make his filibuster a witless stunt, a mountain out of the proverbial molehill? Was Rand Paul merely harping a niggly point?

No. Rand Paul confessed on the Senate floor to not being a lawyer. He was sometimes very precise about what he was after, other times he was a tad obscure. Now, I take his question about targeting Americans on American soil as a term of art, asked in the context that he often established: that of strikes on foreign soil against people who were not doing anything, at the time, at all menacing. You know, sleeping in bedrooms or hanging about in cafes. And those drone strikes killed innocents in the process.

So, it was Eric Holder’s initial response that was witless. He passed up a chance to lecture a non-lawyer on the difference between clear and present danger, on the one hand, and those dangerous folk (suspects) believed to be plotting same, on the other. The former require violent and immediate response; the latter do not. The latter deserve — at least on American soil, and certainly in times of peace — the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

Why wouldn’t Holder perceive Rand Paul’s intent? Why was the filibuster necessary?

The answer strikes me as obvious: Because Holder is now a toady to an administration that uses drones against foreigners in an extravagantly unjust way, and has, therefore, lost the wit to discriminate between right and wrong without being forced to come clean by public pressure. He was only looking for ways to increase and defend presidential power. He forgot his oath of office, to uphold the Constitution, and thus couldn’t see the constitutional issue that was standing him square in the face.

Still, it would have been better had Rand Paul made himself crystal clear in every epistle and utterance, not just some of the time, as in his brilliant filibuster.

Finally, it is worth noting the truly niggly nature of his historic moment . . . in the context of present reality. The American government uses drone strikes against people in foreign countries that we are not officially at war with, such as Yemen and Pakistan. The government behaves as if it were “above the law” abroad, as an imperial power, not a putatively just state capable of diplomacy and intent on spreading good will. By doing this, and by killing many innocents — further, by squelching any consideration of innocence — the American Empire appears as all empires eventually do: as instantiations of great evil.

Rand Paul is not fighting this. I suspect he might like to. But he knows that the American people, while they might be nudged to appreciate their own rights, continue to care almost nothing about the rights of people in foreign countries. Not when the pretense of protecting rights can lead to systematic efforts to exert power and murder in the name of righteous “defense.”

The main difference between statists and individualists can be found embedded in the Warren/Obama “You Didn’t Build That” meme. The so-called progressives — which for convenience, here, I will continue to designate as “statists,” for that is the precise term for them — attempt to systematically undervalue the contributions of people in the private sector by showing the instrumental role played by government in business success, and, in so doing, make a case for higher tax rates. An individualist need not deny that the institutions of government play a crucial role in providing the foundation for social co-operation. Indeed, the classical liberal theory of society places upon government the key role in social flourishing. But it identifies that role as limited, and as dangerous beyond that limit.

More importantly, individualists specify the exact transactions that make up government and society. They make much of the distinctions between typical governmental actions and typical market actions, and they find much of interest in distinguishing the terms of these various transactions.

Statists, on the other hand, speak broadly and vaguely of the institutions and their “importance,” forgetting that the key to explaining the social world are not big gulp concepts, but marginal changes, the ones that actually make up society in the first place.

This summer, I wrote a short response to the Elizabeth Warren/Barack Obama argument. But did not publish it at the time. I forgot. I just unearthed it, and published it, below, backdating it to the time of writing. The point I tried to make, there, is that by ignoring the actual transactions in the past, and instead talking about vague influences and instrumentalities, statists deflect our attention away from the terms of past deals.

This business helped that business through trades at such-and-such prices; that government emprise aided this business and that business with such-and-such a program, paid for by taxes settled in the past. And all the businesses and individual workers that aided Successful Business X did so under terms of specific contracts. Later on, after the success of Business X, they don’t have warrant to demand more money, because of their instrumentality in aiding Business X and its success. No more, one would think, should the governments that help Business X hold out their hands after success has been reached. Not for increases based on the success of Business X or the past aid of Government Y.

The question of raising or lowering taxes is not an easy one to answer by classical liberal theory. It is even harder when you unlimit the scope and power of government, as statists have done. By what standard should a tax be raised or lowered, for whom?

Statists then choose vague, emotional arguments to bolster their eternal demand for more funds. But the rationale has zero intellectual content. It is all emotional, puerile. Childish. It resembles more the whining of children demanding the exact same size of a piece of pie that some other child got. “It’s not fair!” a child may rage. But, once you enter the adult world, one makes deals not on some cosmic or familial “fairness” standard, but on terms mutually agreed upon, usually after haggling. To wish to change those terms, as statists now seek — hoping to get more from “the rich” and from “corporations” — requires adult kinds of argument. Appeals to marginal units, of advantages and costs and benefits.

But this is tough work. They are, of course, in a sea of nescience, and have no real standards other than that of the child or the pirate. It’s all “fairness” with them, or else they fixate on the size of the targeted storehouse they seek to plunder. Terms of payment depend on “ability to pay” and nothing else.

They dare not negotiate as adults, cognizant of the exact kind of transaction that pertains to the issue at hand. That wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying. No, instead of talking about the transactions that make up the institutions we are concerned about, they focus on “classes”: all “businessmen”; the “top 1 percent”; “the rest of us.”

It’s great demagoguery. But it is base rhetoric and it is sub-intellectual.