New Prager University Video: Were the Middle Ages Dark?

The latest course from Prager University:

There is no period in history more misunderstood than the Middle Ages. Providence College Professor of English, Anthony Esolen, vividly demonstrates why the “Dark Ages” would be better described as the “Brilliant Ages.”

New Prager University Video: The Moral Case for the British Empire

Is there a moral case to be made for the British Empire? To even ask the question at your typical university would be to invite derision. That’s a shame because the British Empire’s legacy is one Western Civilization should be proud of. We’d be living in a much less free and prosperous world without it. Historian HW Crocker III explains why in this eye-opening Prager University course.

So What’s This About Muskets and the Commerce Clause?

In their desperation to make ObamaCare’s individual mandate not seem blatantly illegal, liberals have taken to citing a 1792 law requiring Americans to purchase muskets as proof that they’re not stretching the Commerce Clause beyond the Founders’ intent. Too bad for them that Randy Barnett at Volokh nuked that argument over a month ago:
5. At the hearing, Professor Dellinger mentioned that Congress had once passed a law requiring individual male citizens to provide themselves with muskets, gear and uniforms of a certain specification. I believe Professor Dellinger was referring to the Militia Act of 1792, which required all able-bodied male citizens, 18 years of age or older, to be enrolled in a militia and provide themselves with certain supplies for that service. 
a. Do you believe Congress most likely relied on its Commerce Clause powers in passing that statute?
Congress was relying on its Article I, section 8 power “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States . . . ” The militia power, and the duty of a citizen to serve, pre-existed the formation of national government.
b. Do you believe the Militia Act of 1792 would have been a permissible exercise of Congress’ authority if it were based solely on Congress’ Commerce Clause powers?
It would not.
c. In your testimony, you alluded to jury duty, selective service registration and several other actions the federal government requires of each individual citizen. You described these as traditionally-recognized requirements that were necessary for the continued function of the government itself. In 1792, the United States did not have a permanent standing army. Do you think service in the militia was among those traditionally-recognized requirements necessary for the continued function of government? 
Without question, it was considered a fundamental duty of citizenship. Congress is now seeking to add an new and unprecedented duty of citizenship to those which have traditionally been recognized: the duty to engage in economic activity when Congress deems it convenient to its regulation of interstate commerce. And the rationales offered to date for such a duty would extend as well to the performance of any action, whether economic or not, when Congress deems it convenient to the exercise of its power over interstate commerce. The recognition of so sweeping a duty would fundamentally alter the relationship of American citizens to the government of the United States.

26 Reasons Tom Woods Is A Hack (or, Why Courting Ron Paul’s Voters Is a Fool’s Errand)

Generally, I make it a point not to concern myself with the ramblings of Tom Woods, Ludwig Von Mises Institute senior fellow and peddler of dubious historical revisionism. But when his February 8 piece, “26 Things Non-Paul Voters Are Basically Saying,” appeared in my Facebook feed, I bit. As a non-Paul voter, I couldn’t help but be curious about the hidden meaning behind my own words.

What I found was that I blindly trust the government and the media, I don’t care about spending or the Constitution, want drug addicts to get raped, reject Thomas Jefferson, and prefer Goldman Sachs to the US Army.

Huh. And here I thought it was Ron Paul’s slandering of Israel, bigoted newsletters, Civil War revisionism, earmark hypocrisy, shilling for traitors and dictators, 9/11 Trutherism, desire to imprison Scooter Libby on false charges, and anti-Semitism that repelled me from the Texas Congressman. Good thing a genius like Tom Woods came along to so skillfully expose my subconscious motives. All without even meeting me! 

Woods says he’s “trying to understand the thinking behind” those of us who haven’t joined the rEVOLution, but it soon becomes glaringly obvious he’s made no such attempt, and is merely indulging a fanatical desire to berate those who won’t genuflect before his idol. Woods’ twenty-six claims about the non-Paulite psyche are an odyssey of deceit, oversimplification, and sometimes outright childishness.

(1) The American political establishment has done a super job keeping our country prosperous and our liberties protected, so I’m sure whatever candidate they push on me is probably a good one.
Ah, the simpleton’s favorite boogeyman: “the establishment.” Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you know that there’s not much consensus anywhere on the Republican candidates—not among activists, not among pundits, and certainly not among some undefined “establishment.” The intense battle currently raging among Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum supporters is no sign of a movement simply marching to the beat of some elite’s drum. (Oh, and would this be the same political establishment in which conservative superstars Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin regularly praise Paul?) 
(2) Our country is basically bankrupt. Unfunded entitlement liabilities are in excess of twice world GDP. Therefore, it’s a good idea to vote for someone who offers no specific spending cuts of any kind.

(3) Vague promises to cut spending are good enough for me, even though they have always resulted in higher spending in the past.
The idea that Ron Paul is any better than his competitors on spending is dubious. While it sounds good on the stump to say you’ll abolish five departments, you’d think an undertaking of that magnitude would require some discussion as to how. More importantly, though, Paul doesn’t have much of an entitlement reform plan, either; in fact, he’s campaigning on the fiscally-fraudulent promise that if we just take a hatchet to military spending and close down military bases left and right, we won’t have to cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security at all.
(4) I prefer a candidate who plays to the crowd, instead of having the courage to tell his audience things they may not want to hear.
Yet it somehow isn’t the epitome of telling people what they want to hear to promise that we can keep the federal goodies flowing if we simply bring the troops home and stop all that icky fighting. As far as playing to crowds goes, Ron Paul is in a class by himself. After all, this is the author of those deranged newsletters which multiple sources indicate were specifically meant to exploit bigotry and paranoia. Ron Paul is unique among modern politicians in that there’s no crowd he won’t play to, no matter how evil, irrational, or destructive.
(5) I am deeply concerned about spending. Therefore, I would like to vote for someone who supported Medicare Part D, thereby adding $7 trillion to Medicare’s unfunded liabilities.
First, see above about Paul and Medicare. Second, Medicare Part D may well be a mark against Gingrich and Santorum (though not Romney), but to berate people for supporting candidates with Shortcoming X or Bad Position Y, which Woods repeats throughout the column, simply won’t do.

The four Republican candidates don’t exist in a vacuum, and they aren’t running against some Platonic ideal of the perfect conservative or constitutionalist. Unless you stay home on Election Day, it’s impossible to avoid picking a candidate who doesn’t have at least one position that many people will find objectionable. Ron Paul has many such positions, and it would be just as easy to write a similar list of  “26 Things Paul Voters Are Basically Saying,” full of propositions that Tom Woods would never agree to.

Candidate selection is a matter of weighing imperfect alternatives, and choosing the one you believe has the most strengths and/or fewest shortcomings. Most rational people understand that your choice of candidate doesn’t mean you endorse those shortcomings.
(6) I am opposed to bailouts. Therefore, I will vote for a candidate who supported TARP.
Santorum opposed TARP. Other than that, see (5).
(7) The federal government is much too involved in education, where it has no constitutional role. Therefore, I will vote for a candidate who supported expanding the Department of Education and favored the No Child Left Behind Act.
See (5).
(8) Even though practically everyone was caught by surprise in the 2008 financial crisis, which we are still reeling from, it’s a good idea not to vote for the one man in politics who predicted exactly what was bound to unfold, all the way back in 2001.
While Santorum’s record here is imperfect, it’s worth noting that he opposed Dodd-Frank and sounded the alarm on Fannie & Freddie back in 2005. Beyond that, see (5).
(9) I am not impressed by a candidate who inspires people, especially young ones, to read the great economists and political philosophers.
I am not impressed by a candidate who miseducates America’s youth on the American Founding, the Civil War, the history of US intervention, and radical Islam.
(10) I am concerned about taxes. Therefore, I will not vote for the one candidate who has never supported a tax increase.
That’s not entirely true—Paul signed a letter affirming that tax increases must be on the table to get the debt under control. Beyond that, see (5).
(11) I believe it is conservative to support bringing the Enlightenment to Afghanistan via military intervention.
Here’s where Woods stops even pretending to care about the truth. While it’s fair to say that the Bush Administration and many conservatives were overly optimistic about the power of free elections to transform societies like Afghanistan, it’s not at all fair to suggest that conservatives were ever out to “bring the Enlightenment” to the Middle East. The Afghanistan War that Paul voted for was motivated by the Taliban’s refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden. If they had given him up, there wouldn’t have been a military intervention.
(12) Even though I lost half my retirement portfolio when the economy crashed from the sugar high the Federal Reserve’s artificially low interest rates put it on, I would like to vote for someone who is not really interested in the Federal Reserve.
For what it’s worth, Gingrich is very interested in the Federal Reserve these days. Beyond that, see (5).
(13) Even though 50 years of the embargo on Cuba did nothing to undermine Fidel Castro, and in fact handed him a perfect excuse for all the failures of socialism, I favor continuing this policy.
Another recurring pattern among Paulites: taking dictators’ propaganda at face value and suggesting we let it dictate US policy. It never seems to occur to these guys that, thanks to little things like state-run media, these PR battles are largely out of our hands. However ineffective the embargo may be, it’s doubtful that lifting it, or increasing tourism and diplomacy with Cuba, will improve things. On the whole, the plight of Castro’s Cuba is yet another issue Paul is clueless on.
(14) If someone has a drug problem, prison rape is the best solution I can think of.
I sincerely hope the mental faculties of the average American aren’t so far gone that I have to spell out how this is so insipidly demagogic. It’s also based on a myth [PDF link]—the overwhelming majority of federal drug convictions are for trafficking, not use or possession.
(15) Even though the Constitution had to be amended to allow for alcohol prohibition, and even though I claim to care about the Constitution, I don’t mind that there’s no constitutional authorization for the war on drugs, and I will punish at the polls anyone who favors the constitutional solution of returning the issue to the states.
Again, see (5). And while Paul’s right that drugs shouldn’t be a national issue, his arguments sure sound like he also wants states to legalize them.
(16) I believe only a “liberal” would think it was inhumane to keep essential items out of Iraq in the 1990s, even though one of the first people to protest this policy was Pat Buchanan.
American sanctions against Iraq didn’t starve the Iraqi people; Saddam Hussein did. America, along with the rest of the international community, attempted to deliver humanitarian aid to Iraqi civilians through the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program, but Saddam stole billions of dollars from the program and used it to bribe politicians and fund terrorism.
(17) The Brookings Institution says Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America was an insignificant nibbling around the edges. I favor people who support insignificant nibbling around the edges, as long as they occasionally trick me with a nice speech.
See (3) and (5).
(18) I am deeply concerned about radical Islam, so it was a good idea to depose the secular Saddam Hussein — who was so despised by Islamists that Osama bin Laden himself offered to fight against him in the 1991 Persian Gulf War — and replace him with a Shiite regime friendly with Iran, while also bringing about a new Iraqi constitution that makes Islam the state religion and forbids any law that contradicts its teachings.
Appeasement types love the talking point about Hussein’s secularism, because on the surface it seems to indicate that he couldn’t possibly have aided theocratic terrorists. But the empirical record doesn’t lie: Saddam’s Iraq was an active state sponsor of international Islamic terrorism. And while I actually agree that history won’t be kind to Bush’s handling of postwar Iraq, does anybody doubt that if Bush had taken stronger measures to install a more pro-Western, less Iran-sympathetic government in Iraq, Paul would condemn that, too?
(19) Indefinite detention for U.S. citizens seems like nothing to be worried about, especially since our political class is so trustworthy that it could never abuse such a power.
As Andy McCarthy expertly explains, this is a gross misreading of the situation. Indefinite detention of US citizens in wartime is well within the confines of the Constitution, current law strictly and expressly limits which citizens may be detained, and citizen detainees retain robust legal protection via habeas corpus petitions. In short, there’s no blind trust of the government required, Mr. Woods.
(20) Following up on (19), I believe Thomas Jefferson was just being paranoid when he said, “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
Jefferson also said:
A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.
Cherry-picking is fun, isn’t it?
(21) Even though the war in Iraq was based on crude propaganda I would have laughed at if the Soviet Union had peddled it, and even though the result has been hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, four million people displaced, trillions of dollars down the drain, tens of thousands of serious injuries among American servicemen and an epidemic of suicide throughout the military, not to mention the ruination of America’s reputation in the world, I see no reason to be skeptical when the same people who peddled that fiasco urge me to support yet another war as my country is going bankrupt.
It never ceases to amaze me how much people with PhDs can get wrong in so little space:
  • The truth about the Iraq War is that we were not lied to—the pre-war consensus that Saddam was a threat spanned both parties, two administrations, and multiple foreign nations; independent postwar investigations determined that the intelligence was not manipulated; and, believe it or not, we did find WMDs.
  • Far too many Iraqi civilians have been killed, which may also be justly laid at the feet of Bush’s inept postwar strategy. But lying about how many Iraqis died as Paul does is another matter entirely.
  • Nobody is pushing for another war in Iran. The other candidates simply insist on keeping military action on the table as a last-ditch option for keeping Iran from going nuclear—which, if you understand the threat Iran poses, is far preferable to Paul’s shameless pro-Iran propagandizing.
(22) I do not trust the media. But when the media tells me I am not to support Ron Paul, who says things he is not allowed to say, I will comply.

(23) I know the media will smear or marginalize anyone who would really fix this country. But when the media smears and marginalizes Ron Paul, I will draw no conclusion from this.
More sheer delusion. For years, Paul was one of the media’s favorite Republicans because he dutifully repeated all of their anti-Bush, anti-war propaganda. What does Woods make of no less a left-winger than Rachel Maddow sticking up for him? I assume the main “smear” Woods has in mind is the newsletter controversy, but the available evidence is clear: the newsletters are indefensible, and Paul likely knew exactly what was going on. Even so, the media has largely given him a pass, with the harshest treatment being an entirely fair interview Paul walked out on in a huff. The why is obvious: most MSM-ers figure Paul isn’t worth the trouble to destroy because he’ll never be president anyway, and letting him get the nomination would the godsend they don’t dare hope for, because he gives them the ultimate opportunity to sell the narrative that conservatives are bigoted crackpots.
(24) I want to be spoken to like this: “My fellow Americans, you are the awesomest of the awesome, and the only reason anyone in the world might be unhappy with your government is because of your sheer awesomeness.”
I would call this a straw-man argument, but usually straw-man arguments at least sound somewhat like something people are actually saying. This sounds more like something you’d hear in a schoolyard tantrum.
(25) I think it’s a good idea to vote for Mitt Romney, whose top three donors are Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, and Morgan Stanley, and a bad idea to vote for Ron Paul, whose top three donors are the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force.
Actually, if you dig into the numbers, Paul’s claim to be the military’s favored candidate is misleading at best. And it never ceases to amaze me how tone-deaf Paulites are about their guy’s weaknesses, and how carelessly they play right into critics’ arguments. If Woods wants to open the door to guilt by association, then he also has to account for their guy’s popularity with David Duke, Stormfront, the American Communist Party, and numerous other assorted neo-Nazis, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and anti-Semites.
(26) I have not been exploited enough by the cozy relationship between large financial firms and the U.S. government, and I would like to see it continue.
If Woods wants to make a case that Romney and Santorum are shills for large, exploitative financial firms, he’ll have to do better than this. Maybe he’s got Gingrich, but to that I’ll once more refer readers back to (5). I’ll take an apologist for Freddie Mac over an apologist for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad any day of the week.    

Tom Woods embodies everything that’s wrong with the Ron Paul rEVOLution: its dishonesty and hypocrisy, its selective image of the American Founding relentlessly promoted as gospel, and the endless disgraces it’s willing to overlook while simultaneously denigrating all others for much lesser offenses. And while trying to talk sense into a hack like Woods would be an exercise in futility, there’s a lesson here everyone else should heed.

Conservatives sometimes argue that we need to play nice with Paul and figure out a way to bring his voters into the GOP fold. But if the sheer irrationality on display here doesn’t prove any such attempt to be a fool’s errand, then the seething contempt for the very thought of backing anyone else should. These guys were never part of the conservative coalition to begin with; they’re hopelessly infatuated with an America that never existed, which in their minds Republicans have betrayed just as fully as Democrats. 

No significant percentage of them will consider voting for a normal Republican, and the only way to catch their attention would be to emulate the worst aspects of Ron Paul’s ideology. What good is it to win some voters if we lose ourselves in the process?

New on NewsReal – The X-Men Get Political in "First Class"

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

For the better part of the past decade, moviegoers have gotten a new batch of comic-book adaptations every summer. The trend continues in 2011 with Captain America, Thor, Green Lantern, and the latest film in the X-Men franchise, X-Men: First Class.

Set in the 1960s, First Class goes back to the origins of the mutant team, before leader Professor Xavier and archenemy Magneto became foes. And as the just-released trailer for the film reveals, this prequel has an unexpected political twist.

It seems that the X-Men intervene in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now, there are a couple different directions this could go: a) President John F. Kennedy is, for whatever reason, unable to stop Soviet aggression himself, so it’s up to our heroes to save the day, or b) the X-Men have to get involved because the United States and the Soviet Union are both hell-bent on settling their differences in the most violent way possible rather than talking to each other. Either scenario could pan out—we all know how Hollywood feels about America and Communists, but we also know how much leftists revere JFK, and may be reluctant to portray the country as too evil under him.

Read the rest on NewsRealBlog.

New on NewsReal – Bill Maher Rewrites and Ignores History to Pit the Founding Fathers Against the Tea Party

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

Left-wing satirist Bill Maher is taking his hatred of the Tea Party movement to the next level. Evidently epithets like crazy, stupid, and racist no longer satisfy him, and he’s decided it’s time to hit “teabaggers” where it really hurts: by mocking their reverence for America’s Founding Fathers, suggesting the Founders’ values aren’t their own:

“[T]he Founding Fathers would have hated your guts…and what’s more, you would have hated them. They were everything you despise. They studied science, read Plato, hung out in Paris, and thought the Bible was mostly bullshit.”

Maher got a crack in at the Founders as well, saying they had a moral code, but it didn’t come from the Bible…”except for the part about, ‘it’s cool to own slaves.’”


Here, Maher is repackaging the ridiculous straw man that conservatism is not only incompatible with reason and science, but that right-wingers actually pride themselves on disregarding the insights of modern intellectuals in favor of gut instinct and unchanging tradition. But this is a complete distortion of conservative arguments.

We have no problem with true intellectualism or reevaluating our positions in light of new evidence; what we object to is the arrogance of societal elites who look down upon the decision-making abilities of the average American, especially in decisions concerning the individual’s personal affairs. We object to “expertise” being taken as a license to make policy outside of the democratic process.

Read the rest on NewsRealBlog.

New at NewsReal – Eric Alterman Continues to Push Lie That Won’t Die: "Bush Stole Florida"

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

In Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, leftist Stanford University professor Richard Rorty says something that reveals a great deal—perhaps more than Rorty intended—about the psyche of the Left:

I do not think that there is a nonmythological, nonideological way of telling a country’s story […]Stories about what a nation has been and should try to be are not attempts at accurate representation, but rather attempts to forge a moral identity. The argument between Left and Right about which episodes in our history we Americans should pride ourselves on will never be a contest between a true and a false account of our country’s history and its identity. It is better described as an argument about which hopes to allow ourselves and which to forgo.

If leftists operate under the assumption that nobody’s version of history is, or can be, objectively true anyway, then it follows that no amount of evidence or counter-argument will persuade them to abandon factually-unsustainable positions. Accordingly, leftists cling to many falsehoods that, no matter how many times they’re killed, just won’t die: the rich aren’t paying their fare share (wrong), human life doesn’t begin at fertilization (wrong), Saddam Hussein had no WMDs or ties to terrorism (wrong and wrong), the Founders didn’t care about slavery (wrong), the Red Scare was much ado about nothing (wrong), women still face pay discrimination in the workplace (wrong), the science is settled on global warming (wrong).

The latest example comes from left-wing media apologist Eric Alterman, who on the Daily Beast decides to revisit the 2000 presidential election, in which, according to leftist mythology, the Supreme Court helped George W. Bush steal the White House from Al Gore. Naturally, Alterman can’t resist opening with a dig at Dubya for being the worst president ever. But “even if Bush had been a great president,” he insists, “Bush v. Gore would have been a disgraceful decision”:

To prevent a careful recount of the vote, the self-professed conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court ignored the decision of lower federal courts, which four times had rejected similar stay requests from the Bush campaign. As a result, the majority could not cite any real, germane Florida statutory law to support its contention that the counting must be ended immediately. Instead, the court chose to overturn a state court’s election laws as interpreted by that state’s supreme court on the basis of a legal theory that the justices simply made up on the spot: that different counting standards violate the equal protection and due process provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

First, some background: Bush won Florida’s initial vote, albeit narrowly enough to trigger a full machine recount. This recount was conducted. Bush won again. Gore requested a manual recount in four heavily-Democrat counties, as he was legally entitled to do. However, as Mark Levin explains in Men in Black, under the law that would only lead to a full recount in those counties if a partial manual recount—“1 percent of the county’s total votes in at least three precincts”—indicated a vote tabulation error, which it didn’t. Therefore, Levin argues, “there was no statutory authority for the four counties to conduct full manual recounts of all the votes.” But two of the counties went ahead anyway. Thus, the recounts Bush’s lawyers sought to stop and Alterman’s esteemed lower courts sought to continue, weren’t legally authorized.  Further, state law placed a clear deadline, 5PM on November 14, by which recounts had to stop and results had to be turned in. In following the deadline, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was only doing her job and letting the process take its course. It was the Florida Supreme Court, not the federal one, which “chose to overturn a state court’s election laws” by ruling not only against Harris and for Gore’s recounts, but by also ordering additional recounts—without bothering to provide either a deadline or standards of procedure.

Read the rest at NewsRealBlog.