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‘I don’t care if they are shot themselves’

Today is the funeral for Officer Jared Francom, the Ogden, Utah, police officer killed last week in a shootout with Matthew David Stewart at Stewart’s home. Five other police officers were injured in the gun battle, as was Stewart. The reason police were at the scene? Stewart was suspected of growing marijuana for personal use. His father said he used marijuana to treat his severe depression.

As you might guess, my take on the incident is a contrarian departure from the fervent celebration of the sacrifices made by the thin blue line. To that end, let me quote Herbert Spencer who, when told that British troops were at risk during their latest uninvited venture through the Khyber Pass, replied, “When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves.”

Yes, that’s harsh stuff, but I think that Spencer’s argument that human beings are moral actors who have to shoulder the consequences of their choice to support imperialist adventures can just as easily be applied to the actions of police officers who willingly don badge and gun to enforce immoral laws against consensual activities. British troops in Spencer’s time were volunteers, and so are police officers in modern America. Nobody forced them to take the job, and they have a responsibility to consider the moral consequences of their actions.

Spencer believed that wars of aggression would be less likely if men considered the justification for each war before donning uniforms, and it’s just as likely that intrusive laws would be harder to enforce if people thought through the laws for which they’d act as muscle before pinning badges to their chests. It would be equally helpful if bystanders would refrain from automatic accolades for soldiers and cops, just because they decided to serve the state.

Even when the folks in uniform are courageous, they deserve praise only when their efforts are in a good cause.

So, for now, I’ll reserve my strongest sympathies for Matthew David Stewart, whose life is now essentially over, whether he ends it in prison or strapped to a gurney. After all, he was defending himself and his property in that battle, even if his cause was as doomed as that of the Afghan army in 1878.

You can keep your not-so-new nationalism

I’ve always found Teddy Roosevelt to be among the more repugnant of the already repulsive batch of grifters and autocrats we’ve been unfortunate enough to call “Mr. President.” He managed to combine militarism, authoritarianism and economic collectivism with a cult of the state that he called “new nationalism.” As presidential scholar Richard M. Abrams puts it in his discussion of the 26th president, “He spoke righteously for freedom but placed individual liberty in the context of a greater obligation to the nation. He acknowledged that most individuals probably preferred business as usual, to be left to cultivate their own gardens and to pursue modest livelihoods and comforts, but he viewed such an outlook with scorn.”

In economic terms, TR was obsessed with “national efficiency” — a principle he expounded in his (in)famous new nationalism speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. He called for powerful federal and state governments, with all-encompassing powers that allow for no “neutral ground” where people might hide from the government. Said he, “I do not ask for the over centralization; but I do ask that we work in a spirit of broad and far-reaching nationalism where we work for what concerns our people as a whole.”

People who disagreed with his views, he implied (or explicitly stated) were unpatriotic.

If he’d made his speech 20 years later, Teddy Roosevelt’s views could have comfortably clothed themselves in brown shirts (as could those of his cousin who was actually in office at that time).

So, when Barack Obama tramps back to Osawatomie to deliberately echo TR’s speech and views, color me nauseated. “[I]n America, we are greater together – when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share. … [A]s a nation, we have always come together, through our government, to help create the conditions where both workers and businesses can succeed.”

Once again, the appeal to tribal identity, the call to submerge individual interests in the name of the greater good of the group — as identified by the speaker. And if you don’t agree with the speaker’s very specific idea of what’s good and right? Well, Teddy Roosevelt called you a “reactionary”; Obama, in our psychologized age, insists you and your co-dissidents have “collective amnesia.”

But we live in an age that’s not just psychologized, but fact-checked, and even the Washington Post called bullshit on much of Barry’s supporting evidence for his exhumed not-so-new nationalism.

On Obama’s insistence that “expensive” tax cuts for the “wealthy” are responsible for the current economic mess:

Obama certainly inherited an economic mess, and we have argued he does not deserve blame for the massive loss of jobs early in his administration. But it seems odd to keep blaming poor job growth on the Bush tax cut, especially because Obama himself pushed through a nearly $1-trillion stimulus and took other actions that have affected the economy, for better or worse.

Finally, Obama blames the Bush tax cuts for “massive deficits.” It is certainly true that the Bush tax cuts helped blow a hole in the budget. But they did not do it all by themselves. We looked at length at this issue earlier this year, assisted by new Congressional Budget Office data.

The data showed that the biggest contributor to the disappearance of projected surpluses was increased spending, which accounted for 36.5 percent of the decline in the nation’s fiscal position, followed by incorrect CBO estimates, which accounted for 28 percent. The Bush tax cuts (along with some Obama tax cuts) were responsible for just 24 percent.

And on the president’s insistence that the uber-wealthy are even more successful at tax avoidance than even the Occupiers have charged in their wildest fever-dream accusations:

“Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1 percent — 1 percent. That is the height of unfairness.”

This is a striking statistic. But the only evidence that the White House could offer for it was a TV clip of a conversation on Bloomberg TV, in which correspondent Gigi Stone made this assertion during a discussion about the tax strategies that the very wealthy use to avoid paying taxes.  The TV clip was promoted by the left-leaning website Think Progress.

Stone quoted from a Bloomberg News article last month that reported on such tax strategies, which mostly involve complicated ways to defer paying capital gains taxes. But the article never made the one-percent claim. It also noted that the IRS had gotten more hostile to such transactions in recent years.

An administration official conceded the White House had no actual data to back up the president’s assertion, but argued that other reports showed that some of the wealthy pay little in taxes.

The Post even quoted Judge Learned Hand pointing out that “Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury.”

So, calls for authoritarianism founded on appeals to tribal identity, based on manufactured data. Thanks anyway, but I’ll pass.

Obama for … Pope?

Renegade historian Thaddeus Russell forwards this delightful little tidbit from White House cheerleader … errr … journalist Kevin Drum of Mother Jones.

Obama has been a disappointment on civil liberties and national security issues, but since I frankly don’t think any modern president can buck the national security establishment in any significant way, I haven’t held that too deeply against him. The escalation in Afghanistan has been unfortunate too, but he did warn us about that. The scope of both his conventional escalation and his soaring use of drone attacks in the AfPak region have been disheartening, but it’s hard to complain when he made it so clear during the campaign that he intended to do exactly that.

But now we have Libya. ….

So what should I think about this? If it had been my call, I wouldn’t have gone into Libya. But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I’d literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he’s smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted. I voted for him because I trust him, and I still do.

So, let me get this straight. Drum disagrees with Obama on virtually everything the president has done regarding civil liberties and foreign policy — with the shiny, new war in Libya being just the cherry on top — and he still deferentially bangs his head on the floor because he “literally trust[s] his judgment over my own.” This is basically the doctrine of papal infallibility, isn’t it? The words and policies coming out of the man may be monstrous, but we have to go along because of his direct line to righteousness!

Oh yeah, that kind of tribal, follow-the-leader deference is just inspiring to watch.

Note to any remaining Bushies: Your fanatical devotion to Dear Leader is no longer an embarrassing national outlier.