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March 23, 2011 10:29AM

Patrick Henry and Mohammed Nabbous

On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Liberty or Death!” speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. Fortunately, Henry got the liberty he sought and lived another quarter‐​century to enjoy the republican government he helped to create. But last night, NPR reported on Mohammed Nabbous, a man who made a similar stand in Libya and almost immediately lost his life in the struggle for liberty.


Henry told his fellow Virginians:

If we wish to be free — if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending — if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!…


Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!

Mo Nabbous used modern technology to reach more listeners. NPR’s Andy Carvin called him “the face of Libyan citizen journalism” who started a one‐​man Internet broadcast, Libya Al‐​hurra or Free Libya:

The media was so tightly controlled by the Gadhafi regime. And then all of a sudden, as Benghazi was trying to free itself, you started hearing voices coming over the Internet. And one of those first voices to come out was Mo, Mohammed Nabbous.


And he was a fairly tech savvy guy, had worked in the tech industry before. And so he managed to rig together a live stream, using freely available tools and a satellite Internet access. And suddenly, he became their local equivalent of Radio Free Europe or Voice of America, where he was trying to get the world to hear their point of view of what was going on.

And then, only weeks after starting his broadcasts, at the age of 28, Nabbous was killed — on the air, as he broadcast from a firefight in Benghazi. Interviewer Melissa Block recalled that he had been known to say, in words that echo Patrick Henry,

I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid to lose the battle.

Freedom is won by people like Patrick Henry and Mohammed Nabbous. We should remember both of them today, and take inspiration from their example.

March 23, 2011 8:57AM

Walter Williams, Freedom Fighter

I’ve been fortunate to know Walter Williams ever since I began my Ph.D. studies at George Mason University in the mid‐​1980s. He is a very good economist, but his real value is as a public intellectual.


He also has a remarkable personal story, which he tells in his new autobiography, Up from the Projects. I’ve read the book and urge you to do the same. It’s very interesting and, like his columns, crisply written.


To get a flavor for Walter’s strong principles and blunt opinions, watch this video from Reason TV. I won’t spoil things, but the last couple of minutes are quite sobering.

I suppose a personal story might be appropriate at this point. My ex also was at George Mason University, and she was Walter’s research assistant. Walter would give multiple‐​choice tests to students taking his entry‐​level classes and she was responsible for grading them by sending them through a machine that would “click” for every wrong answer. For almost every student, it sounded like a machine gun was going off. Suffice to say, Walter’s classes were not easy.


So while I’m glad to say he’s my friend, I’m also happy I never took one of his classes.

March 23, 2011 8:53AM

Libya, Limited Government, and Imperfect Duties

Glenn Greenwald observes that we're hearing a familiar false dilemma from advocates of intervention in Libya—the same one that was trotted out so frequently in the run-up to the war in Iraq: Either you support American military action, or you must be indifferent to the suffering of civilians under Qadaffi. Bracket for a moment the obvious empirical questions about the general efficacy of bombs as reliable means of alleviating suffering. What I find striking is the background assumption that whether the United States military has a role to play here is taken to be a simple function of how much we care about other people's suffering. One obvious answer is that caring or not caring simply doesn't come into it: That the function of the U.S. military is to protect the vital interests of the United States, and that it is for this specific purpose that billions of tax dollars are extracted from American citizens, and for which young men and women have volunteered to risk their lives. It is not a general-purpose pool of resources to be drawn on for promoting desirable outcomes around the world.

A parallel argument is quite familiar on the domestic front, however. Pick any morally unattractive outcome or situation, and you will find someone ready to argue that if the federal government plausibly could do something to remedy it, then anyone who denies the federal government should act must simply be indifferent to the problem. My sense is that many more people tend to find this sort of argument convincing in domestic affairs precisely because we seem to have effectively abandoned the conception of the federal government as an entity with clear and defined powers and purposes. We debate whether a particular program will be effective or worth the cost, but over the course of the 20th century, the notion that such debates should be limited to enumerated government functions largely fell out of fashion. Most people—or at least most public intellectuals and policy advocates—now seem to think of Congress as a kind of all-purpose problem solving committee. And I can't help but suspect that the two are linked. Duties and obligations may be specific, but morality is universal: Other things equal, the suffering of a person in Lebanon counts just as much as that of a person in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Once we abandon the idea of a limited government with defined powers—justified by reference to a narrow set of functions specified in advance—and instead see it as imbued with a general mandate to do good, it's much harder for a moral cosmopolitan to resist making the scope of that mandate global, at least in principle.

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March 22, 2011 5:01PM

Return to Debt Mountain

Last year I noted that the White House Office of Management and Budget homepage featured a call from the president to “invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt.” Yet, the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of his then‐​current budget proposal showed that publicly held debt as a share of GDP would rise like the steep slope of a mountain under his policies.


The president’s latest budget proposal was released in February, and according to the CBO’s preliminary analysis, Obama would once again leave “our people” with a mountain of debt:

Media Name: Debt%20Obama.jpg

Given that the quote is clearly embarrassing, one would think that the White House would have taken it down by now. But it’s still there.

March 22, 2011 12:58PM

Max Boot Is Worried about Libya

Now he tells us.

Max Boot, among the loudest proponents of military action against Muammar Qaddafi, reports in today’s NY Times that he “can’t stop worrying about everything that could go wrong.”

Recognizing that Libya is so bitterly divided that it might not be appropriate to call it a country, Boot is suddenly concerned that “a long, seething history of rivalries among 140 tribes and clans,” could erupt into full scale civil war. Even if Boot gets his wish, and Qaddafi is ousted, he frets that “the tribes could fight one another for the spoils of Libya’s oil industry; as in Iraq, some could form alliances with Al Qaeda.”

Boot concedes that Libya “has had an active Islamist movement that has sent many fighters to Iraq,” and warns that “the collapse of Colonel Qaddafi’s police state would mean greater freedom for all Libyans, including jihadists who could try to instigate an insurgency as they did in Iraq.”

So, lots of things could go wrong. But Max Boot isn’t rethinking his earlier support for military operations against Qaddafi. Instead, he wants us to widen the war.

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March 22, 2011 11:34AM

Are Republicans Winning the Budget Battle but Losing the Budget War?

Among advocates of limited government, there is growing unease about the fiscal fight in Washington.

This is not because anything bad has happened. Indeed, Democrats thus far have been acquiescing -- at least on a temporary basis -- to conservative demands for $61 billion of spending cuts over the rest of the current fiscal year. This is remarkable after 10 years of endlessly expanding government.

Here's what Jennifer Rubin wrote at her Right Turn blog.

A senior Senate adviser wisecracked, “A month ago, they said they couldn’t possibly cut a dime. Then they said the $4 billion [in] cuts in the first CR were a non-starter. Now they’re bragging about cutting spending?” It is a remarkable turn of events and another sign that Reid was bested in this round of budget battling. Twice now he capitulated to House Republicans.

This analysis is right, and it is very similar to what I wrote back on March 2 regarding the first short-term agreement.

So why, then, am I worried?

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