Why was ethanol a non-issue for “rigged economy” liberals?

ct-bernie-sanders-ted-cruz-iowa-20160201-001

Just before the Iowa caucuses, the Renewable Fuel Standard became a big issue in the Republican race, with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul coming out against it and the rest supporting it. The law essentially mandates that transportation fuel contain a minimum amount of ethanol.

Cruz and Paul took the principled and correct position that the government should not be dictating the contents of fuel and using force to disrupt the voluntary exchange of a good between buyers and sellers. To do this, they had to take on the very powerful ethanol lobby, something which few politicians have done before.

Despite a barrage of misinformation and negative ads, Cruz went on to win the caucus and in doing so, effectively killed the ethanol lobby (or so say the pundits). If ever there was a win for principles over special interests, this was one.

So, coming to the point — why was this almost a non-issue in the Democratic race? Why did Clinton and Sanders end up supporting the mandate? Don’t they go around exciting the masses by talking about how “rigged” the American economy is? Why would they support something that is a quintessential case of rigging the system?

The answer lies in the fact that they (and liberals, in general) do not actually understand what an unrigged economy looks like and what corrupting it entails. A market that consists of voluntary exchange of goods and services between buyers and sellers is not rigged, even if it results in outcomes one doesn’t like.

On the other hand, Sanders’ proposals to force people to pay for “free” college, “free” healthcare or the likes are what can be considered unjust interventions or “rigging.” If people want to help others attend college or get healthcare, they can donate through existing charities or form new private organizations for that purpose.

The system is definitely rigged (think of the various subsidies, private discrimination laws or the laws that interfere with the contract between an employer and her employee), but liberals, if anything, want to rig it even more. Most of them have never spent any time studying political philosophy and thus do not understand that positive rights are not valid (because they are essentially in conflict with someone else’s negative rights), or even the difference between positive and negative rights.

What rigs the system is legislating positive rights, or equivalently, making the state initiate aggression against someone. A prime example would be something Clinton and Sanders both have come out in support of — forcing people to fund abortion†.

Unless liberals undertake the efforts required to understand basic political theory and form coherent thoughts about politics, the rest would have to endure having their negative rights violated and see a clueless man like Sanders be hailed as a savior.

† I cannot imagine people more amoral and depraved than those who support forcing people to fund abortion. In order to do this, you have to simultaneously believe in these two propositions: 1. that a mother has neither an enforceable nor an unenforceable obligation towards the child in her womb, but 2. strangers have an enforceable obligation to pay so that the mother can terminate that child.

Making sense of the Benghazi, IRS and AP scandals

Note: In this post, I’m more interested in analyzing the evidence regarding the scandals rather than attacking the Obama administration.

The interest in the handling of the Benghazi attacks spiked with the testimony of the so-called “whistle-blowers.” Republicans and the right-wing media lashed out at the Obama administration accusing it of misleading the public. The subsequent revelations of targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, and seizure of AP journalists’ phone records by the Department of Justice lead to even more uproar. In such cases, it’s important to not get carried away by hype and take a look at the facts in an objective nonpartisan manner. So, let’s try to understand what’s going on.

The attacks in Benghazi
The US diplomatic mission in Libya was attacked on Sept. 11, 2012 (the 11th anniversary of 9/11 attacks), resulting in the death of four Americans, including the Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Some days later, Susan Rice, the UN ambassador appeared on several TV shows (including CBS’s Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press and CNN’s State of The Union) claiming that the attacks “began spontaneously” after protests “sparked by this hateful video.” She was referring to the movie-trailer Innocence of Muslims that was viewed as denigrating Islam. She immediately came under fire from Republicans for blaming the video. In the ensuing controversy, she withdrew from consideration for Secretary of State nomination.

Barack Obama delivers statement on US Consulate attack in Benghazi Sep 12, 2012
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton repeatedly referenced the anti-Islam video in speeches after the attacks. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.

The “talking points” that Susan Rice used have now been revealed to be revised a total of twelve times, all references to terror being removed. As it turns out, the administration knew “from the get-go” that it was a terrorist attack, but chose not to disclose it. Despite this, in a press statement, Hillary referenced the anti-Islam video kind of implying that it had something to do with the attack. Obama too referenced the video in his speech to the UN General Assembly.  In the second Presidential Debate with Mitt Romney, he even claimed to be offended by the suggestion that his administration would hide anything or purposely mislead the public. But why would he try to hide anything? The right says that an admission that the attack was orchestrated by terrorists would have hurt his election campaign, as it would have contradicted the popular narrative that the al-Qaeda was on the run after their leaders had been decimated.

The exact account of what really happened on 9/11 is brought forth by the testimony of Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission at the embassy at the time of the attack. In his account, two points are worth noticing here. First that the fighter planes weren’t sent. Second that the Ambassador was taken to a  hospital believed to be controlled by Ansar Sharia. In his words:

I asked the defense attache, . . . ‘Is anything coming?  Will they be sending us any help?  Is there something out there?’  And he answered that, the nearest help was in Aviano, the nearest — where there were fighter planes.  He said that it would take two to three hours for them to get onsite, but that there also were no tankers available for them to refuel.  And I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and we went on with our work. . . .

We learned that it is in a hospital which is controlled by Ansar Sharia, the group that Twitter feeds had identified as leading the attack on the consulate.

If the defense attache is to be believed, it’s baffling that there wouldn’t be a good enough arrangement in place for such emergencies. Why security didn’t reach has been a major point of investigation for the media. According to Fox News, the CIA officers were twice instructed to stand down. The CIA denied this publicly afterwards. So if the administration can be believed in this case, we have to commit ourselves to the contention that the security must have been weak. And that’s what the premise of contradictory reports of Ambassador Stevens pleading for extra security but being denied, and refusing offers of extra security twice is. Tellingly, Stevens was taken to a hospital controlled by the enemy. I simply don’t know who’s responsible for this.

In a joint press conference with David Cameron held on May 13, reporters got the opportunity to fire questions about the issue. For anyone who wanted clear answers, what he said resulted in utter disappointment. He blamed Republicans for politicizing the issue and called the furor a “sideshow.” He even went on to deny that he ever shied away from calling the Benghazi incident a terrorist attack. Here is what he said:

The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow.  What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were. . . . And keep in mind that two to three days after Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows, using these talking points, which have been the source of all this controversy, I sent up the head of our National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, up to Capitol Hill and specifically said it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it. . . . So if this was some effort on our part to try to downplay what had happened or tamp it down, that would be a pretty odd thing that three days later we end up putting out all the information that, in fact, has now served as the basis for everybody recognizing that this was a terrorist attack and that it may have included elements that were planned by extremists inside of Libya. . . . Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days?  So the whole thing defies logic.  And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations. We’ve had folks who have challenged Hillary Clinton’s integrity, Susan Rice’s integrity, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering’s integrity.  It’s a given that mine gets challenged by these same folks.

(Courtesy whitehouse.gov)

In reality, he had called the incident an “act of terror” and not an “act of terrorism.” The difference between the two phrases may be subtle, but as noted by Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post, when he was asked a number of times in different circumstances to affirm that it was a terrorist attack, he ducked the question. Ducking the question is what he’s trying to do by feigning offence because his and Hillary’s “integrity” is being attacked.

The reason this is all so appalling is the extent to which Obama and Hillary tried to make people believe their story; and then disavowed it as soon as we knew that it was wrong. They told the Benghazi victims’ family that they will find the guy who made the video. (Nakoula aka “Sam Bacile”, the producer of the video is currently in jail for violating probation.) Also rebarbative is the extent to which the idea of tolerance towards religion has been pushed, although most liberals won’t find any problem with this.

Obama and Hillary condemned the anti-Islam video as it “denigrated a great religion.” The liberal media joined the chorus in condemning the video for hurting the religious feelings of Muslims. I think that this condemnation is totally unwarranted and here is where I (and New Atheists like Sam Harris) diverge from fellow liberals. Even after being shown evidence and clear reasoning for why belief matters, liberals’ inner voice of political correctness does not let them accept it. They remain in total denial, and this is how the concept of multiculturalism has gained so much foothold. It’s the idea that every culture is equally valid. That the Islamic culture of silencing dissent by murdering apostates is just as valid as the Western culture of free-thought. How absurd! The special privilege that religion is given in our culture (wrongly) is most often utilized by “supporters” of Islam to silence their critics, by conveniently labeling them “Islamophobic.” An excellent article by Ali A. Rizvi strives to explain why criticizing Islam isn’t wrong.

The IRS scandal
The Internal Revenue Service “targeted” conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status. Obama discussed this in the press conference:

I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this. . . . If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it. . . . I’ve got no patience with it.  I will not tolerate it.  And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.

(Courtesy whitehouse.gov)

So, he claimed complete lack of knowledge about it before the media disclosed it. This would be very surprising, if true. Conservatives see this as the Limbaugh theorem in action. This theorem is that Obama is never seen as governing, but trying to fix everything from the “outside.”  On the other hand, the acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller had to resign, after it was found that he was aware of all this. Culpability aside, the “real” IRS scandal here is that political groups, whether liberal or conservative, get tax exemption at all. The 501(c)(4) status, which such groups apply for, keeps their donors confidential apart from making them tax exempt. There are varied opinions as to whether we should completely do away with 501(c)(4).

The seizure of AP’s phone records
Federal investigators secretly obtained two months of phone records for reporters and editors of The Associated Press. This action undermines the freedom of the press. Although, it has been suggested that it is related to a government investigation into information leaks, the overwhelming amount of records obtained defeats any attempt at justification.  In an angry letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the president and CEO of AP, Gary Pruitt called this action as “a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news” and “a massive and unprecedented intrusion by the Department of Justice.” Obama got a chance to respond to the AP scandal in a press conference with Turkey’s Prime Minister on May 16. Here’s what he said:

Now, with respect to the Department of Justice, I’m not going to comment on a specific and pending case.But I can talk broadly about the balance that we have to strike.  Leaks related to national security can put people at risk.  They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various, dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk. . . .

And so I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me as Commander-in-Chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.

Now, the flip side of it is we also live in a democracy where a free press, free expression, and the open flow of information helps hold me accountable, helps hold our government accountable, and helps our democracy function.  And the whole reason I got involved in politics is because I believe so deeply in that democracy and that process.

(Courtesy whitehouse.gov)

His response seems appropriate, and contrary to how he responded on other scandals, he did take responsibility and made the “Limbaugh Theorem” fail. His remarks about striking the balance between security and freedom of press were apt too. Although, how much sincerely he holds these views is yet to be seen.

Although, these scandals have found liberals on the defensive, they do not lend any credibility to the Republicans. After all, they are expected to make the most out of it, and gain a political advantage. But, what I think is unbecoming of Democrats is too try to evade the questions by calling it a political sideshow. Liberals do need self-reflection. And so do conservatives, arguably a lot more of it. No matter how much sense they make here or in their rejection of Islam, their “zombie” economic theories underlying their support for spending cuts (austerity) and tax cuts, rejection of science like Darwinian evolution, refusal to accept that climate change is real and man-made and countless other things do not. And lest we forget, Republican presidents have had scandals and bad decisions too. For starters, think Watergate or Bush’s Iraq invasion.