Blurred Lines: The Humanitarian Threat to Free Speech by Aaron Tao

“Think of liberalism … as a collection of ideas or principles which go to make up an attitude or ‘habit of mind.’” – Arthur A. Ekirch

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville was keen to observe that “once the Americans have taken up an idea, whether it be well or ill founded, nothing is more difficult than to eradicate it from their minds.”

Reflecting upon my experience as a first-generation immigrant who grew up in the United States, I concur with Tocqueville; this inherent feature of the culture and character of the American people holds true even today.

In America, there are no sacred cows, no one is above criticism, and no one has the final say on any issue. It is worth emphasizing that today, the United States stands virtually alone in the international community in upholding near-absolute freedom of personal expression, largely thanks to the constitutional protections provided by the First Amendment.

But without certain internalized values and principles, the legal bulwark of the First Amendment is nothing more than a parchment barrier.

As cliché as it may sound, it is important to recognize that our cherished freedom to think, speak, write, and express ourselves should not be taken for granted. Defending the principle of free speech is a perennial conflict that has to be fought in the court of public opinion here and abroad.

Unfortunately, a number of recent developments have greatly alarmed civil libertarians and may very well carry long-term negative repercussions for the United States as a free and open society.

In his new book, Freedom from Speech, Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and tireless free speech advocate, highlights a troubling cultural phenomenon: the blurring of physical safety with psychological and ideological comfort.

It is a disturbing trend that is not limited to the United States:

People all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right. This is precisely what you would expect when you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended. Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.

On the other side of Atlantic, Great Britain is undergoing what one writer describes as a “slow death of free speech.” The land of Milton is now home to luminaries who wish to reinstate Crown licensing of the press (not seen since 1695!).

Meanwhile, ordinary people face jail time for callous tweeting. In British universities, student-driven campaigns have successfully shut down debates and banned pop songs, newspapers, and even philosophy clubs.

While the United States is fortunate enough to have the First Amendment [to] prevent outright government regulation of the press, cultural attitudes play a greater role in maintaining a healthy civil society.

Lukianoff reserves special criticism for American higher education for “neglecting to teach the intellectual habits that promote debate and discussion, tolerance for views we hate, epistemic humility, and genuine pluralism.”

Within academia, “trigger warnings” and “safe places” are proliferating. In a truly Bizarro twist, it has now come to the point that faculty members are defending individual rights and due process and decrying mob rule, while their students run off in the opposite direction.

We now hear on a regular basis of campus outrages involving a controversial speaker or perceived injustice, and the “offended” parties responding with a frenzied social media crusade or a real-world attempt to shame, bully, browbeat, censor, or otherwise punish the offender.

A small sampling from this season include attempts to ban screenings of American Sniper at the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland, resolutions to create a Stasi-like “microaggression” reporting system at Ithaca College, and the controversy involving AEI scholar Christina Hoff Sommers speaking at Oberlin College.

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.

With the endless stream of manufactured outrages, perhaps it is fitting that George Mason University law professor David Bernstein would raise the question, “Where and when did this ‘makes me feel unsafe’ thing start?”

My personal hypothesis: When postmodernism found itself a new home on Tumblr, spread across the left-wing blogosphere, became reinforced by mobs and echo-chambers, and spilled into the real world.

Luckily, not all progressives have sacrificed the basic principles of liberalism to the altar of radical identity politics and political correctness. One liberal student at NYU courageously pointed out the grave dangers posed by the ideology embraced by many of his peers:

This particular brand of millennial social justice advocacy is destructive to academia, intellectual honesty, and true critical thinking and open mindedness. We see it already having a profound impact on the way universities act and how they approach curriculum. …

The version of millennial social justice advocacy that I have spoken about — one that uses Identity Politics to balkanize groups of people, engenders hatred between groups, willingly lies to push agendas, manipulates language to provide immunity from criticism, and that publicly shames anyone who remotely speaks some sort of dissent from the overarching narrative of the orthodoxy — is not admirable.

It is deplorable. It appeals to the basest of human instincts: fear and hatred. It is not an enlightened or educated position to take. History will not look kindly on this Orwellian, authoritarian perversion of social justice that has taken social media and millennials by storm over the past few years.

I, too, am convinced that these activists, with their MO of hysterical crusades, are one of today’s biggest threats to free speech, open inquiry, and genuine tolerance, at least on college campuses. The illiberal climate fostered by these their ideologues seems to be spreading throughout academia and is continuing to dominate the headlines.

As of this writing, Northwestern professor (and self-described feminist) Laura Kipnis is undergoing a Kafkaesque Title IX inquisition for writing a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education and making comments on Twitter that offended a number of students. The aggrieved mobilized in full force to have her punished under the federal sex discrimination law.

These groups and their tactics represent what Jonathan Rauch would describe as the “humanitarian” challenge to free speech. In his must-read book, Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Rauch identified how these “humanitarians” sought to prevent “offense” to “oppressed and historically marginalized” peoples. In the name of “compassion,” words became conflated with physical action.

As speech codes spread and the definition of “harassment” (reading a book in public, for instance) became broader within the bureaucracy of academia, an “offendedness sweepstakes” was cultivated and turned into the norm.

Rauch’s book was published in 1993, but his diagnosis and arguments still apply today, if not more, in the age of social media when the “offendedness sweepstakes” are amplified to new levels.

Nowadays, PC grievance mongers can organize much more effectively and more often than not, get rewarded for their efforts. The future of a free society looks very bleak should these types become a dominant force on the political landscape. I can’t help but shiver at the prospect of seeing the chronically-offended eggshells of my generation becoming tomorrow’s legislators and judges. The chilling effects are already being felt.

Even as numerous challenges emerge from all corners, free speech has unparalleled potential for human liberation in the Digital Age. The eternal battle is still that of liberty versus power, and the individual versus the collective. I remain confident that truth can still prevail in the marketplace of ideas. It is for this reason we should treasure and defend the principles, practices, and institutions that make it possible.

Last month marked the birthday of the brilliant F.A. Hayek, the gentleman-scholar who made landmark contributions to fields of economics, philosophypolitical science, and law, and established his name as the twentieth century’s most eminent defender of classical liberalism in the face of the collectivist zeitgeist.

For all his accomplishments, Hayek practiced and urged epistemological humility (a position that should be natural to any defender of free speech) in his Nobel lecture. Looking back on his life’s work, Hayek was highly skeptical of the nebulous concept of “social justice” and its totalitarian implications. He even went as far as to devote an entire volume of his magnum opus, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, to completely demolish The Mirage of Social Justice.

Hayek concluded:

What we have to deal with in the case of “social justice” is simply a quasireligious superstition of the kind which we should respectfully leave in peace so long as it merely makes those happy who hold it, but which we must fight when it becomes the pretext of coercing other men [emphasis added].

And the prevailing belief in “social justice” is at present probably the gravest threat to most other values of a free civilization.

Hayek did not predict that “social justice” would be first used to silence dissent before moving on to its long-term agenda, but it would not have surprised him. Weak ideas always grasp for the censor in the face of sustained criticism — and feeble ideas made strong by politics are the most dangerous of all.

Humanitarians with guillotines can be found from the French Revolution to present day. Modern day defenders of individual liberty would do well to heed Hayek’s warning and resist the Siren song of “social justice,” the rallying cry of collectivists who cannot realize their vision without coercion.


Aaron Tao

Aaron Tao is the Marketing Coordinator and Assistant Editor of The Beacon at the Independent Institute.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL: It’s Not Too Late To Change The Channel

What happens if the Iran Nuclear agreement goes bad? Ever wondered what a bad nuclear deal looks like?

Change the Channel is a fast-moving look through the eyes of our news channels at the growing turmoil and eventual destruction wrought by a nuclear Iran on the Middle East and beyond.

What if what happens in Iran doesn’t stay in Iran!

Even America isn’t safe.

Bi-Partisan Policy Group Blasts Obama Iran Nuclear Deal and Middle East Strategy

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) released a major policy statement signed by a bi-partisan group of former nationally prominent legislators, Bush and Obama Administration national security, diplomatic officials and the former deputy of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency blasting the emerging P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, perhaps just days away from  possibly being concluded on June 30th. The statement also condemned the Administration appeasement of Iran’s state-sponsored regional hegemony and the failure to develop a coherent strategy to combat the rise of Daesh, the Islamic State. The WINEP statement encompassed policy recommendations on these important national security issues. Among the signatories are former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), former California U.S. Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), former CIA Director Gen. David Petreaus, former special negotiator Ambassador Dennis Ross, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, James Cavanaugh, Olli Heinonen, former Deputy Director of the IAEA, Stephen Hadley, former Bush Administration National Security Director, WINEP own experts and its executive director, Robert Satloff.

Among the key points in the WINEP-sponsored statement addressing the problems with the emerging P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran is the following:

  1. Monitoring and Verification: The inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (the “IAEA”) charged with monitoring compliance with the agreement must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit in order to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. This must include military (including IRGC) and other sensitive facilities. Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site anywhere in the country that the inspectors need to visit in order to carry out their responsibilities.
  2. Possible Military Dimensions: The IAEA inspectors must be able, in a timely and effective manner, to take samples, to interview scientists and government officials, to inspect sites, and to review and copy documents as required for their investigation of Iran’s past and any ongoing nuclear weaponization activities (“Possible Military Dimensions” or “PMD”). This work needs to be accomplished before any significant sanctions relief.
  3. Advanced Centrifuges: The agreement must establish strict limits on advanced centrifuge R&D, testing, and deployment in the first ten years, and preclude the rapid technical upgrade and expansion of Iran’s enrichment capacity after the initial ten-year period. The goal is to push back Iran’s deployment of advanced centrifuges as long as possible, and ensure that any such deployment occurs at a measured, incremental pace consonant with a peaceful nuclear program.
  4. Sanctions Relief: Relief must be based on Iran’s performance of its obligations. Suspension or lifting of the most significant sanctions must not occur until the IAEA confirms that Iran has taken the key steps required to come into compliance with the agreement. Non-nuclear sanctions (such as for terrorism) must remain in effect and be vigorously enforced.
  5. Consequences of Violations: The agreement must include a timely and effective mechanism to re-impose sanctions automatically if Iran is found to be in violation of the agreement, including by denying or delaying IAEA access. In addition, the United States must itself articulate the serious consequences Iran will face in that event.

The group also addressed the inchoate Middle East strategy addressing Iran’s regional support for state terrorism and the failed strategy to combat the Islamic State:

  1. In Iraq: Expand training and arming not only of Iraqi Security Forces but also Kurdish Peshmerga in the north and vetted Sunni forces in the West. Allow U.S. Special Forces to leave their bases and help coordinate air strikes and stiffen Iraqi units. Sideline Iranian-backed militia and separate them from Shiite units (“popular mobilization units”) that are not under Iranian control.
  2. In Syria: Expand and accelerate the U.S. train and equip programs. Work with Turkey to create a safe haven in northern Syria where refugees can obtain humanitarian aid and vetted non-extremist opposition fighters can be trained and equipped. Capitalize on Bashar al-Assad’s increasing weakness to split off regime elements and seek to join them with U.S. trained opposition elements. Interdict the transshipment of Iranian weapons into Syria in coordination with the Kurds and Turkey, and consider designating as terrorist organizations Iranian-backed Shiite militias responsible for egregious atrocities.
  3. In Yemen: Expand support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE in pressuring the warring parties to the negotiating table while seeking to split the Houthi elements away from Iran.
  4. Regionally: Interdict Iranian arms bound for extremist groups and continue to counter its efforts to harass commercial shipping and our naval forces. Reaffirm U.S. policy to oppose Iran’s efforts to subvert local governments and project its power at the expense of our friends and allies.

The WINEP statement concludes:

Collectively, these steps also strengthen U.S. capability against Daesh (the misnamed “Islamic State”). Acting against both Iranian hegemony and Daesh’s caliphate will help reassure friends and allies of America’s continued commitment. And it will help address Israel’s legitimate concerns that a nuclear agreement will validate Iran’s nuclear program, further facilitate its destabilizing behavior, and encourage further proliferation at a time when Israel faces the possible erosion of its “qualitative military edge.” We urge the U.S. administration to create a discreet, high-level mechanism with the Israeli government to identify and implement responses to each of these concerns.

Taking the actions we propose while the nuclear negotiations continue will reinforce the message that Iran must comply with any agreement and will not be allowed to pursue a nuclear weapon. This will increase, not decrease, the chance that Iran will comply with the agreement and may ultimately adopt a more constructive role in the region. For the U.S. administration’s hopes in this respect have little chance so long as Iran’s current policy seems to be succeeding in expanding its influence.

The President’s ideological  mindset regarding a rapprochement with an untrustworthy Islamic Regime in Tehran coupled with  Secretary of State Kerry’s appeasement of the red-lines diktats issued  by Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Khamenei portend a disastrous emerging agreement, should one be concluded in its current form.  We fully anticipate the Administration will issue its own statements rejecting these compelling and cogent recommendations contained in the WINEP statement signed off by a broad array of bi-partisan national security experts, diplomatic negotiators, former national legislators and international nuclear weapons inspectors.  With the clock winding down on a final Joint Plan of Action,  Americans of all political stripes and Members of Congress  should heed the WINEP-sponsored recommendations concerning the emerging P5+1 agreement under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act  (INARA) of 2015.  The Congress will have a daunting task to respond in less than 30 days under INARA with the President poised to veto any negative vote, not easily overridden.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Al Jazeera Reporter Endorses Terrorists

Why is Ahmad Zaidan, Al Jazeera’s Islamabad bureau chief, tacitly endorsing a terrorist organization?

In an op-ed for Al Jazeera’s English website on June 2, entitled “Nusra Front’s quest for a united Syria,” Zaidan writes that the Islamist militant rebel group in Syria is distancing itself from Al-Qaeda and “positioning itself as the natural heir of jihadi ideology.”

The Al Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria, is one of the largest, most powerful and best-organized rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, and in December 2012 it landed on the U.S. State Department List of Terrorist Organizations. Officially designated as an alias of Al-Qaeda, Al Nusra was branded for the more than 600 attacks it had claimed responsibility for since November 2011, many of which had taken the lives of innocent Syrian civilians. Recent victories as part of a rebel coalition against the Assad regime in the northwest province of Idlib have further bolstered Al Nusra and strengthened the group’s leadership position among Syria’s anti-government forces.

Zaidan’s bias in favor of Nusra is clear almost immediately, when he notes that when he was covering Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, his “hosts” from those two terror organizations never offered him more than “simple tea and bread for breakfast,” whereas his Al Nusra hosts had generously laid out a “dozen dishes” for him. However, his appreciation of a wider range of breakfast options quickly turns to using his position as a leading reporter for the most influential news network in the Middle East — and the larger Muslim world — essentially to act as a mouthpiece for Al Nusra.

Ahmad Zaidan, Al Jazeera’s Islamabad bureau chief, is shown here reporting from Damascus, Syria. (Image source: Al Jazeera video screenshot)

Zaidan recounts and quotes extensively from a separate interview conducted by Al Jazeera Arabic on May 27 with Al Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, to emphasize differences between Jolani’s leadership tactics and those of Al-Qaeda under Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Zaidan writes that Jolani “defies al-Qaeda’s legacy of going after minorities,” highlighting a promise from Jolani that if the Alawites (an offshoot sect of Shia Islam to which Syria’s ruling family and many of its supporters belong) were to abandon the Assad regime, they “would be welcome” in a new Syria.

Jolani, according to Zaidan, also promised that Druze communities in Syria would be protected; as a result of that statement, he has received support from Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Lebanese Druze.

The problem with Zaidan’s translation of the interview with Jolani from Arabic to English is that he leaves out a critical caveat that Jolani made regarding protection of the Alawites, considered by many Sunni Islamists, including Al-Qaeda and Al Nusra, not to be true Muslims, but apostates of Islam. A Guardian article, reporting on Jolani’s interview with Al Jazeera, accurately translated Jolani’s relevant quote as: “If the Alawites leave their religion and leave Bashar al-Assad, we will protect them.” [Emphasis added.]

Zaidan seemingly manipulated the original quote to obscure that Al Nusra is, in fact, not tolerant of other religions or religious minorities, and that only religious conversion would allow Alawites to remain safely in Syria under Al Nusra leadership.

Also absent from Zaidan’s characterization of Al Nusra as more tolerant than Al-Qaeda, is any mention of Syria’s significant Christian minority, which makes up about 10% of the population.

The Guardian article, however, does translate Jolani’s remarks on Christians; his words are far from accepting. The Guardian paraphrases Jolani as saying that “in a future state ruled by Islamic law, the financially capable would pay ‘jizya,’ or tax reserved for non-Muslims.”

Zaidan’s misleading translation and editing of Jolani’s interview reveal more than bias: they demonstrate a violation of a basic principle of journalistic ethics: not to manipulate quotes from sources in a way that fundamentally changes their meaning. Zaidan has done just that — and to support a terrorist organization, no less.

Many who commented on Zaidan’s article noticed his deceitful omission. Journalist Evan Hill, who speaks Arabic and has covered the Middle East for both Al Jazeera and the Guardiantweeted, “Is it me or does Zaidan leave out the part of the Alawite quote where he said ‘give up your beliefs’?”

Having less-than-subtly revealed his support for Al Nusra, Zaidan continues sounding off as an unofficial media spokesman for the group. He cites “recent leaks” that Al Nusra leaders have decided to leave “the al-Qaeda umbrella and operate exclusively as a Syrian party aiming to establish an Islamic State,” although a public announcement of such a break has yet to happen.

According to Zaidan, “[S]uch a move, whenever made, would not only satisfy Nusra’s followers,” of which Zaidan certainly seems to be one; it would “also pull the carpet from under the feet of ISIL.” In other words, as his article’s subtitle, “Nusra Front is positioning itself as the natural heir of jihadi ideology,” makes clear, Al Nusra sees itself as the group that will upstage the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) to control Islamist jihadi ideology in Syria — hardly a comforting alternative to Assad and ISIS.

The Middle East — especially Syria and Iraq — needs a great deal of humanitarian aid just now; what it does not need is competition between brutal, seventh century-styled Islamic states. Nevertheless, Zaidan seems to be of the opinion that the way to take down ISIS is a competing caliphate.

Certainly, the half-hearted U.S.-led strategy for fighting ISIS has thus far failed to produce any promising signs that ISIS is on the retreat — especially since the loss of Ramadi in Anbar province last month. Leaving terrorist groups to duke it out, however, has also failed to end the conflict.

The excuse Zaidan offers for his support of Al Nusra is that the international community — as well as any non-Islamist rebel forces on the ground in Syria — have failed to help citizens under siege from the Assad regime, and that these failures have led to increased sympathy among the population for Islamist rebel groups who “exercise real power.”

While this is an accurate, although overly simple, assessment of the situation in Syria, it hardly seems a sufficient reason for Zaidan, as a leading reporter for a major global news network, with unparalleled media influence in the Muslim world, to endorse the cause of a terrorist organization.

To Zaidan, however, not only is the current situation in Syria reason enough to throw his support behind Al Nusra, it is also a reason to chastise the United States for not having already gotten on the group’s bandwagon. Comparing Al Nusra to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Zaidan writes: “Washington used to depict the PLO as a terrorist outfit — but then took a U-turn.” Zaidan’s use of the word “depict” is telling; to him, Al Nusra is not a terrorist group; rather it is unfairly being labeled one by the United States.

Instead, he suggests that the U.S. should repeat history and change its tactics toward Al Nusra. However, this change would entail the U.S. supporting a group that does not believe in religious tolerance even among Muslims; that views Christians as second-class citizens, and that uses terrorist tactics, including the attempted use of chemical weapons, in its fighting against the Assad regime, just as the regime has done.

Zaidan draws another parallel to support Al Nusra: between Al Nusra and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He notes that the group was “once the main target of the US military, but is not currently designated as a ‘terrorist organization’ by either the UN, UK or the US.” Finally, he reminds his readers that Washington no longer brands “Hezbollah or Iranian Quds Force’s Qassem Soleimani” as terrorists.

Zaidan argues that since the United States has changed relationships with these current or former terrorist organizations, it should take another extremely dangerous militant Islamist group off its terrorist list.

However, Zaidan’s comparisons should raise concerns about whom the Obama administration designates as terrorists — or even chooses as strategic partners: If these groups are not America’s enemies, who is?

Zaidan proceeds to call the Obama administration hypocritical for supporting “alien” Shia militias “fighting on behalf of Baghdad,” but not demonstrating the same support for “Syrian fighters — such as those who make up Nusra’s ranks” waging war against Assad. Again, Zaidan’s argument should give the White House pause as to whom the U.S. is partnering with in Iraq. Iranian-backed Shia militias, while they may be committed to fighting ISIS, can hardly be considered long-term partners for a stable Iraq.

In his closing thoughts, Zaidan makes a half-hearted attempt to mention the importance of “tolerance” and “build[ing] bridges” in Syria, although given his support for a group whose goal is supposedly to convert everyone to its extremist brand of Sunni Islam or force discriminating taxes on them, honest reconciliation does not seem to be a priority for him.

More alarming than Zaidan’s support for Al Nusra and his editorial dishonestly is that Al Jazeera allowed this article to be published. Zaidan is entitled to express his opinions, regardless of how unsettling they might be. This was, after all, an op-ed piece; the disclaimer at the bottom clearly states that the views presented in the article do not represent the views of Al Jazeera. So while Al Jazeera should not have censored Zaidan for the content of his piece, it was irresponsible and unethical to have published an article that, through deceitful editing practices, grossly misrepresents Al Nusra’s ideology.

As for Zaidan, whatever sympathies he may have for Al Nusra, his loyalty to the ethics of his profession and his responsibility to his readers evidently do not outweigh his loyalties to a terrorist organization.

Follow Rachael Hanna on Twitter.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the Gatestone Institute International Policy Council website.

Sam Pimm to Head Ben Carson for President Super PAC

MERRIFIELD, Va., /PRNewswire/ — The 2016 Committee, a political action committee raising awareness and support for Dr. Ben Carson’s candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, today announced that Sam Pimm, an experienced campaign manager and expert political consultant, will serve as the Committee’s executive director.

“Sam brings over 30 years of high level campaign and political experience to our committee,” said John Philip Sousa IV, national chairman for The 2016 Committee. “He understands that in order to succeed you need a plan, a strategy, tactics and objectives. In coordination with National Director Vernon Robinson and our regional directors, Sam will immediately begin developing a tight business plan around our existing strategies to help ensure success.”

As executive director for the Committee, Pimm will report directly to the board and oversee all field activities in support of the 2016 Committee’s efforts to send Dr. Carson to the White House. He will be responsible for grassroots organization and provide oversight and strategy for state and regional directors across the country, including in early primary states.

Pimm is the owner and founder of Consultant in a Can, a firm that leverages Pimm’s 36 years of campaign experience to provide consulting services on an affordable basis for state and local Republican candidates. His extensive campaign experience includes hundreds of state legislature campaigns, as well as congressional, senate, and presidential campaigns including Ronald Reagan, Fred Thompson, Phil Gramm and Newt Gingrich.

“I’m excited to join the 2016 Committee and be part of its important mission because I know Dr. Ben Carson is the best hope we have for healing America’s deep economic and social wounds,” Pimm said. “I’m looking forward to working with John Sousa, Vernon Robinson, Chuck Muth, the Committee’s staff and our thousands of amazing grassroots volunteers across the country to win Dr. Carson the keys to the White House.”

Dr. Carson has repeatedly polled at or near the top of a crowded field of Republican candidates in presidential polls around the country. A recent Monmouth University poll showed Dr. Carson leading all other GOP candidates among Republican and Republican-leaning voters.

About the 2016 Committee

The 2016 Committee is a political action committee formed to draft Dr. Ben Carson into the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. It was founded in August 2013 by John Philip Sousa IV and Vernon Robinson as the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, and works to raise awareness of Dr. Carson’s qualifications and to engage grassroots conservative activists in clamoring for Dr. Carson to run for president. For more information, visit www.2016committee.org or connect on Twitter @DraftRunBenRun or Facebook/RunBenRun.org.

VIDEO: Muhammad cartoons shown on Dutch TV

Standing for the freedom of speech and refusing to submit to violent intimidation. When will the American media have similar courage? Or will it continue to signal that Islamic jihadists can get Americans to do whatever they want by threatening murder if they don’t?

geert wilders screen shot

Geert Wilders

Muhammad Cartoons shown on Dutch TV

Today, a selection of Muhammad cartoons were shown on Dutch public television.

The cartoons were originally shown at an exhibition of Muhammad cartoons in Garland, Texas, last May, where PVV leader Geert Wilders gave a speech, and which was attacked by terrorists.

Geert Wilders:

“The only way to show terrorists that they are not going to win is to do exactly what they do not want us to do. I do not broadcast the cartoons to provoke; I do it because we have to show that we stand for freedom of speech and that we will never surrender to violence. Freedom of speech must always prevail over violence and terror.”

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EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of police at the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, May 3, 2015. Photo: Larry W. Smith, European Pressphoto Agency.

The Left Will Always Blame the GOP on Obamacare

With the 2016 elections right around the corner, conservatives must begin immediately preparing to rebut the massive Democratic Party/mainstream media, symbiotic messaging operation. I read a piece this week by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that summarizes the far Left’s new Obamacare messaging strategy in the event of a Supreme Court loss in the King v. Burwell (Obamacare subsidies) case.

Here is a short summary of where we are. The far Left is terrified that the Supreme Court is going to rule against the Obama administration in King v. Burwell, essentially voiding the Obamacare subsidies in the states using the federal exchange even though the legislative language in the law regarding the “subsidies” was written this way to punish states for failing to set up state exchanges. The far Left and the Obama administration are disputing this point despite clear, videotaped evidence of Professor Jonathan Gruber, one of Obamacare’s lead architects, stating otherwise.

Now, the Obama administration has never let videotaped evidence of their prior contradicting statements dissuade them from continuing to lie to the American people (i.e. “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period.”) but, in this case, their lies are especially egregious because their plan to withhold subsidies from states that refused to set up a state exchange was designed to punish the citizens of that state for not complying with Obamacare. When the punishment backfired because of public opposition to Obamacare, and support for the governors and legislators who refused to comply with its exchange language only increased, they went with plan B: lie. As usual, after their strategic miscalculation they are desperately trying to find a way to blame Republicans for this disaster, although not one Republican in the House or Senate voted for the final version of Obamacare.

The far Left’s messaging strategy to avert political disaster because of their tactical miscalculation regarding the Obamacare subsidies is to say that the Republicans have “taken away” the subsidies and pin the blame on Republicans if the court rules against the Obama administration. But, here’s the catch; the Dems destroyed our already-troubled healthcare system all by themselves by unilaterally supporting Obamacare. The reason the Obamacare “subsidies” (which are your tax payer dollars given back to you after the government takes a cut) are necessary is because insurance costs are exploding because Obamacare forces Americans to buy expensive insurance they do not want and do not need. And the reason these “subsidies” may be taken away is because the Democrats unilaterally wrote and passed the law this way to punish Americans for resisting this legislative debacle.

Unsurprisingly, when you combine the mandate to purchase health insurance policies, which included multiple unwanted and unneeded services with the community rating and guaranteed issue provisions designed to redistribute costs according to government edicts, you have a recipe for explosive healthcare cost growth. Of course, none of this was a mystery to the Republican Party when they warned America about the coming storm of healthcare premium hikes, a warning the mainstream media largely downplayed to ensure the “wizard” stayed well-hidden behind the curtain.

So here it is in a nutshell: Obamacare was shoved down your throats using parliamentary trickery. Obamacare forced you to buy expensive insurance you don’t want or need at dramatically inflated costs to compensate for the redistributive, big-government, effort to price-control the health insurance market. Obamacare taxed you to gather a honey pot of money. Obamacare then used this honey pot of taxpayer money to “give back” to Americans to pay for their new, and more expensive insurance.

You will never fix this legislative disaster by doubling down on absurdity. The economics won’t work because they can’t work. The Republican Party must prepare their counter message right now to explain to the American people the horrible tsunami that Obamacare has created. If we allow the far Left to continue to distort markets, engage in massive income redistribution operations, and instill more big-government coercion schemes to force compliance on the American people by simply pledging to prolong the misery by “fixing” the subsidy system and continuing the misery, then we are no better than the president who lied to us to sell us this jalopy.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the Conservative Review. The feature image of the Supreme Court building is by Tom Williams | AP Photo.

“Perversion of Truth” — UN Report on the 2014 Gaza War

Col_ Richard Kemp Source BESA Bar Ilan U (1)

Former British Commander in Afghanistan Col. Richard Kemp (Ret.).

In a mid-May 2015 Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post interview by Paul Alster, “The Redoubtable Colonel [Richard] Kemp”, anticipated the findings of the UN Task Force Commission on the 2014 Gaza War. Kemp said: “I think their staff is going to be so heavily biased against Israel that it will be quite a struggle for them to produce a fair report.” Col. Kemp, former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, was present on the battle front last summer at the Israeli /Gaza frontier had presented his independent testimony to the UN Human Rights Commission investigation. It was a furtherance of his remarks to the earlier UN report following IDF Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009.  Conclusions, as Col. Kemp indicated,  rejected by Israel.

His predication was reflected in the UN Report by the ‘independent’ investigation released yesterday in Geneva by the Chairperson, former acting New York Supreme Court Justice Mary McGowan Davis. Davis has made a post retirement career after she left the bench in 1998  conducting  independent UN investigations into human rights violations. Justice Davis was member of the team that concluded the IDF had perpetrated war crimes against civilians in Gaza defending Israeli citizens from Hamas rocket terrorism in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. The summation of the latest UN investigation on the 2014 War in Gaza  accused both  Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes, while holding IDF to a “higher standard” of behavior.

The UN report cited the comparative toll of casualties occasioned by heavy fighting amidst the civilian infrastructure in Gaza:

The 2014 hostilities saw a “huge increase” in the firepower used in Gaza with Israeli forces conducting more than 6,000 airstrikes and firing approximately 50,000 tank and artillery shells at targets within the enclave. The explosion of force used by Israel ultimately resulted in 1,462 Palestinian civilian casualties, a third of which were children.

Moreover, the fighting in Gaza also resulted in the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure with some 100,000 residents still homeless, according to recent UN estimates.

Much of the destruction, notes the UN report, could be blamed on Israel’s use of weaponry with a wide kill and injury radius, particularly in the densely populated areas of Gaza where destruction and casualties are very likely.

At the same time, the Commission reported that Palestinian militants had also fired 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortars towards Israel in July and August of last year, killing 6 civilians and injuring at least 1,600 people.

The UN Report played the blame game targeting the IDF actions saying:

That when the safety of an Israeli soldier is at stake, “all the rules seem to be disregarded.”

Israel must break with its lamentable track record in holding wrong doers accountable, the UN Commission of Inquiry’s assessment continued. “And accountability on the Palestinian side is also woefully inadequate.”

In addition, the UN inquiry said it remained “disturbed” by Israel’s decision to close a criminal investigation into the killing of four children on a beach in Gaza on 16 July. The Commission pointed out that international journalists and numerous Palestinian eyewitnesses were not interviewed by the Israeli authorities, raising further doubts about the thoroughness of their investigation.

Ambassador Dr_ Dore Gold

Ambassador Dr. Dore Gold.

Au contraire, say the authors of a  Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs report , Ambassador Dr. Dore Gold former President of the JCPA and former Editor of the Jerusalem Report Hirsh Goodman in an Arutz Sheva Op-ed: “The bottom line is that the war was fought to stop the rocket fire on Israel’s south and that if not for the Iron Dome, Israeli casualties would have been immense.”  Ambassador Gold went on to point out the UN Report’s “perversion of the truth”:

There is a school of thought that claims Israel wanted this war. The opposite is true. But, though this was a war Israel did not want, it was a war for which it had planned meticulously, thereby denying Hamas its main weapon: victimhood.

The following points are the essential truths of the 2014 Gaza war, truths backed by research, evidence, and accounts of events as they happened. The chapters of JCPA’s full report, a summary of which is below, can leave no doubt as to which party should be in the dock for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

More importantly, however, it rings a bell of warning that if Hamas is allowed to escape its crimes, the seeds of the next conflict will be planted.

Saying that Israel attacked civilian buildings in Gaza “means nothing”, IDF Lt. Col. (res) David Benjamin of the JCPA told Arutz Sheva:

Everything in Gaza is essentially civilian. There’s no military infrastructure in Gaza which actually looks like a military target. Everything is embedded in civilian buildings. So there’s nothing new when you say that Israel attacked civilian buildings, because what you have to know is the reason for the attack and what Israel knew about what was going on in those civilian buildings.

Why those buildings were attacked was compounded by the risk of revealing secret intelligence which makes Israel’s presentation of its case increasingly difficult.

Arutz Sheva reported remarks at a presentation of the Washington, DC-based JINSA defense think-tank’s Gaza Assessment Task Force findings, by U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel  (Ret.) Professor Geoffrey S. Corn:

He criticized the UN Human Rights Council committee for not including any current or former military commanders and constructing legal arguments which were totally detached from reality.

In contrast, he noted, the Gaza Assessment Task Force – which found that Israel had taken extraordinary measures, even beyond the letter of the law, to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza – is “a report written by war fighting commanders.”

Ultimately this is the domain of commanders, not necessarily lawyers. Lawyers contribute by guiding commanders through complex legal questions, but ultimately what we’re talking about here is… war, and war is the job of war fighters.

Professor Corn – former Chief of the Law of War Branch, and currently Professor of Law and Presidential Research Professor at the Texas College of Law – further noted that the UNHRC report totally ignored Hamas’s cynical use of civilians as human shields as a political and diplomatic weapon.

Which brings us back to these observations of a recognized “war fighter’, Col. Kemp.   As noted in the Jerusalem Post/ Jerusalem Report:

Does he believe that Israel is right to be wholly skeptical about the UN? “Entirely. The UN, in particular the UN Human Rights Council, seems to me to be an instrument to attack Israel. They seem to devote a disproportionate amount of their efforts into trying to undermine Israel and that is partly as a result of many of the member states being vehemently opposed to Israel. I think Israel is right to be concerned about that.”

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of former New York Surpreme Court Justice Mary McGowan Davis, Chair of UN Investigation in to 2014 Gasa War.

Unsustainable: Little Ways Environmentalists Waste the Ultimate Resource by Timothy D. Terrell

The memo told me to get rid of my printer — or the college would confiscate it.

The sustainability director — let’s call him Kermit — is an enthusiastic and otherwise likable fellow whose office is next door to mine. Kermit had decided it would be better if the centralized network printers in each department were used for all print jobs. He believed that the environment was going to benefit from this printer impoundment.

Some sustainability advocates object to printers because little plastic ink cartridges sometimes wind up in landfills — but I saw no effort at the college to promote cartridge recycling; the sustainability policy had skipped persuasion and gone straight to confiscation.

Certainly the IT people didn’t want to maintain the wide variety of desktop printers or supply them with cartridges — but the printer on my desk was not college-supplied or maintained, and I provided all my own cartridges. Personal printers were now verboten. Period. The driver behind the policy, apparently, was the rectangular transformer box plugged into the wall, which consumed a trickle of a few watts of electricity 24/7.

A typical household inkjet printer draws about 12 watts when printing, and when it’s not, it draws about 5 watts. At 5 watts per hour, then, with a few minutes a week burning 12 watts, my lightly used inkjet would use around 46 kWh a year, which at the commercial average rate of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour translates to an annual cost of $5.06. There may be side effects, or externalities, to use a term from economics. A 2011 study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciencesthat renewable energy advocates often cite estimates that the side effects of coal-produced electricity cost about 18 cents per kWh, so assuming that all the electricity saved would have been produced by burning coal (nationwide, it’s actually less than 40 percent), that brings the total annual cost to $13.34.

Kermit must have calculated that confiscating printers would collectively generate several hundred dollars a year of savings for the college — and allow the college to put another line on its sustainability brag sheet.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to save electricity. But Kermit had forgotten the value of an important natural resource: human time.

Time is a valuable resource: labor costs are a large chunk of most businesses’ costs. The college basically wanted to save electricity by wasting my time — and everyone else’s.

Here’s how that works. Suppose I want to print out a recommendation letter and envelope on college letterhead. Using the network printer involves the following steps:

  1. Walk down hall with letterhead and insert letterhead in single-feed tray.
  2. Return to office.
  3. Hit Enter and walk back to printer.
  4. Discover that page was oriented the wrong way and printed upside down.
  5. Return to office.
  6. Walk back to printer with new letterhead page.
  7. Return to office.
  8. Hit Enter and walk back to printer.
  9. Discover that someone else had sent a job to the printer while I was in transit and printed his test on my letterhead.
  10. Return to office.
  11. Walk back to printer with new letterhead page.
  12. Wait for other guy’s print job to finish.
  13. Insert letterhead, properly oriented.
  14. Run back to office to reduce chances of letterhead being turned into another test.
  15. Hit Enter and walk back to printer.
  16. Pick up successfully printed letter.
  17. Walk back to office, quietly weeping at the thought of repeating the process to print the envelope.

This “savings” turns into more than 12 trips to and from the communal printer, plus any time spent waiting for another print job. The environmentalist may bemoan the two wasted sheets of paper, but he would quickly remember that there’s a recycling bin beside the printer. The more significant cost of this little fiasco is human time.

Let’s suppose that’s a total of six minutes. Of course, I’ve learned the right way to orient paper and envelopes after a mistake or two, and printer congestion is rarely a problem. And I never did higher-volume print jobs, such as tests for classes, on my own inkjet anyway, so the lost time in trotting back and forth would apply mainly to one- or two-sheet print jobs, envelopes, and scanning. Suppose the confiscation of my inkjet means, conservatively, five additional minutes a week during the school year. That’s about three hours a year sucked out of my life, absorbed in walking back and forth.

Suppose, again to be conservative, my time is worth what fast food restaurant workers in Seattle are getting paid right now — $15 per hour. So the university is wasting $45 of my salary to save $13.34 in utilities. Does that sound like the diligent stewardship of precious resources?

(I will assume that any health benefits from the additional walking are canceled out by the additional stress caused by sheer aggravation.)

I am pleased to say that the desktop printer kerfuffle ended with the sustainability director backing down. We were all allowed to keep our printers, and I thereby kept three hours a year to do more productive work. Kermit and I remained on good terms, though he never took me up on my offer to provide an economist’s voice on the sustainability committee.

But we must make the most of small victories, for college and university sustainability proponents march on undeterred. If anything, the boldness and scale (and the waste) of campus initiatives has only increased. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) recently released a report showing that colleges trying to reduce their environmental impact have spent huge amounts of money on sustainability programs for little to no gain.

The unintended consequences of these programs abound. And though each initiative may destroy only a small amount of human time, the collective impact of these microregulations is a death by a thousand cuts.

Many college cafeterias are now “trayless,” in the hopes of reducing dish use and wasted food. But students must manage unwieldy loads of dishes, leading to inevitable spills, or make multiple trips (and student time is valuable, too). One study mentioned in the NAS report found that “students without trays tend to run out of hands and to skip extra dishes — usually healthy dishes such as salads — in order to better carry their entrée and dessert. This leads to students consuming relatively fewer greens and more sweets.”

A college’s “carbon footprint” has also become the object of campus policy. Middlebury College, for example, pledged in 2006 that it would be “carbon neutral” by 2016. So it has spent almost $5 million a year (over $2,000 per student) on things like a biomass energy plant, organic food for the dining hall, and staff and faculty tasked with improving sustainability. All of this has cost the college about $543 per ton of CO2 reduction. So even if one accepts the $39 per ton figure the Obama administration has stated as the value of reducing carbon dioxide emissions (and I, for one, am skeptical), Middlebury has greatly overpaid.

We can all appreciate the desire to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us. But this doesn’t mean that every environmental sustainability initiative makes sense. Overpaying to reduce CO2 emissions, as with Middlebury, means that the product of hours of our work is needlessly consumed, and we have fewer resources for other valuable pursuits.

Sustainability advocates need to remember that resources include more than electricity, water, plastic, paper, and the like. Humans have value, too, here and now. Chipping away at our lives with little directives to expend several hours saving a bit of electricity, water, or some other resource, is to ignore the value of human life and to waste what Julian Simon called “the ultimate resource.”


Timothy D. Terrell

Timothy Terrell is associate professor of economics at Wofford College in South Carolina.

Some Republicans Are Cowards on Race

Of February 18, 2009, then U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder gave a Black History Month speech to the employees at the Department of Justice.  He said in part, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

I think the same thing can and should be said about our Republican candidates for president.  These candidates are too busy listening to their all white staffs and all white pollsters who tell them not to come out and say remove the confederate flag from flying in South Carolina for fear of angering Southern white folk.  And they wonder why Blacks want nothing to do with this party or their candidacies?

I am thoroughly embarrassed by their total lack of conviction.  These same candidates that say flying the confederate flag is a state issue want states to have no say so on an issue like abortion.  Are they really for states’ rights or just when they don’t want to take a principled stand on an issue?

If someone refuses to support your candidacy because you are trying to move America beyond its racist past; should that not be a badge of honor for you?

But these candidates are giving all their attention to a shrinking base (white voters), versus giving some of their attention to a growing base (Black voters).

I am not personally bothered by the flying of the flag at all.  Support for the flag does not automatically equate to being a racist or supporting the enslavement of Blacks.

I think Blacks have more important issues to deal with, but the optics are horrible for Republicans simply because over the past 50 years Republicans have absolutely no standing within the Black community.

I am equally as embarrassed by Black Republicans on issues dealing with race.  Of the few Black staffers working throughout our party, most are totally incompetent in dealing with these issues. You rarely, if ever, see them in the media with anything meaningful to say.  They have no insight that would resonate with the Black community.  They are more interested in being patted on the head by whites within the party, as opposed to finding a way to bring some perspective to the issue.

Why is the party not utilizing people like Bob Brown, Bob Woodson, Shannon Reeves, Mike Gunning, Sean Moss, Allegra McCullough, and Greg Griffin?

I will tell you why.  Because most in the party have no idea who these people are.  These are the Blacks with standing and credibility within the Black community.  These are the Blacks who are media savvy and have institutional memory of the Black struggle and of the party.

These are the Blacks that will not just say what the party wants to hear; but will say what needs to be said.

The Republican Party has never had a real surrogate program for Blacks, but one is desperately needed with the above mentioned people.  Where are the Black entertainers and athletes?

Amazingly, some Republicans do actually get it.

Mitt Romney has been consistently opposed to the flying of the flag.  There is absolutely no ambiguity in his position.  Romney has a great deal to contribute to the discussion of race relations relative to the Black community and I hope he will engage more directly with the Black community so that his voice can be heard, unfiltered by the media.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, is another person who gets it.  Yesterday he unexpectedly flew to South Carolina to be with their governor, Nikki Haley and their two U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott as she gave her support to removing the flag from being flown on the grounds of the state capitol.

Priebus reached out to me when the tragedy happened in South Carolina; but before he asked me my thoughts on how he should respond, he insisted on giving me his thoughts first.  What I find amazing about Priebus is that every time he has reached out to me on an issue specific to the Black community, we basically agree with each other.  We may disagree somewhat on tactics, but on substance, no.

I find his instinctual ability to pick up on many of the nuances of the Black community amazing for someone who grew up in a state like Wisconsin.  My only criticism of Priebus is in the area of not allowing this instinctual understanding to be seen in the media, especially the Black media.

The media has no idea of how Blacks respond to him and his message for the Black community.

I would love to see Republicans like Romney and Priebus engage more with the Black community on a more substantive level.

They both have great stories to tell relative to the Black community; they just need to have a media narrative created in a way that resonates with the Black community and advances the party.

Reasonable men can argue whether America is a nation of cowards when it comes to race; but there is absolutely no arguing that Republicans who are running for president are a bunch of cowards when it comes to race and the Black community.

FLORIDA: Luz Gonzalez New State Coordinator for Parents Against Common Core

Miami-Dade, FL – Today Florida Parents Against Common Core announced Luz de los Angeles Gonzalez as the new State Coordinator for the largest anti-Common Core parent group in Florida. The group began three years ago with four moms and became an explosive statewide anti-Common Core movement encompasses activists in all 67 counties in the state. Ms. Gonzalez has been working as Florida Parents Against Common Core – Southeast Coordinator since October of 2014.

Ms. Gonzalez says her first mission as State Coordinator will be to ignite forces with other anti-Common Core leaders and groups from across the state in hopes of rallying activists, in collaboration with Florida Parents, prior to the 2016 presidential primary. She says, “The group’s continued focus will keep sight on implementing effective education reform that sets policy for state and local control of education by assuring Washington D.C.’s long distance government coercive and grinding bureaucracy is out of Florida’s classrooms.” Acknowledging that education expenditures in Florida are approximately one-fifth of the state budget, Florida Parents Against Common Core is looking forward to the ongoing and needed conversation on education. Ms. Gonzalez is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University with a BA in Political Science. She is currently a resident of Miami, FL, where she continues her love of education by tutoring students from middle-school to freshman in college in the subject matters of English Language Arts, Civics, and History. She additionally devotes much of her time to increasing school choice opportunities, and has in the past served as Miami Dade County (with the 4th largest school district in the country) National School Choice Week Representative. Consistent with Ms. Gonzalez’s philosophy of putting students, parents, teachers, and families first, she has challenged and will continue to vehemently oppose the State of Florida’s implementation of Common Core State Standards.

Original founding member and outgoing State Coordinator Laura Zorc says “The decision to step down was not easy but with Luz’s background in education and political science, her experience proved to be a dynamic addition to the group while serving as our South East Coordinator and this is an exciting next step.” “Luz has a gift of connecting with parents and with her zeal, passion, and commitment, I am very comfortable with my decision and without a doubt I know she will hit the ground running in her new leadership role”.

Ms. Zorc, the mother of four from Vero Beach, continues by saying “Over the last three years I have been traveling the state and country educating parents, groups, and legislatures about the ills of Common Core.” “With three elementary school age children it’s time to bring my traveling down a notch.” In closing Zorc says, “I intend on remaining involved with education on a state and local level and will not be going away but rather shifting my focus towards efforts closer to home.”

Iran Votes to Ban Access to Military Sites

Nothing to be concerned about. Barack Obama and John Kerry say they want peace. And they wouldn’t lie to us, would they?

RELATED VIDEO: Iranian Parliament Chants “Death to America” – Votes to Ban Nuclear Inspections

“Iran votes to ban access to military sites amid chants of ‘death to America,’” Associated Press, June 21, 2015 (thanks to Anne Crockett):

With some lawmakers chanting “Death to the America”, Iran’s parliament voted to ban access to military sites, documents and scientists as part of a future deal with world powers over its contested nuclear programme.

If ratified, the bill could complicate ongoing talks in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers – the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – as they face a self-imposed 30 June deadline for a final deal on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions. The talks are focused on reaching a final accord that curbs Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Of 213 lawmakers present on Sunday, 199 voted in favour of the bill, which also demands the complete lifting of all sanctions against Iran as part of any final nuclear accord. The bill must be ratified by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog, to become law.

The terms stipulated in the bill allow for international inspections of Iranian nuclear sites, but forbid any inspections of military facilities.

The bill states in part: “The International Atomic Energy Agency, within the framework of the safeguard agreement, is allowed to carry out conventional inspections of nuclear sites.”

However, it concludes that “access to military, security and sensitive non-nuclear sites, as well as documents and scientists, is forbidden”. The bill also would require Iran’s foreign minister to report to parliament every six months on the process of implementing the accord.

Iran’s nuclear negotiators say they already have agreed to grant United Nations inspectors “managed access” to military sites under strict control and specific circumstances. That right includes allowing inspectors to take environmental samples around military sites.

But Iranian officials, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, have strongly rejected the idea of Iranian scientists being interviewed.

In a statement on Sunday, the US state department said inspections remained a key part of any final deal.

All parties “are well aware of what is necessary for a final deal, including the access and transparency that will meet our bottom lines”, the statement said. “We won’t agree to a deal without that.”

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Lawsuit Challenges the Constitutionality of Common Core in North Dakota

Responding to the concerns of parents and teachers over the Common Core State Standards and the Federal government’s control of curriculum nationwide, the Thomas More Law Center announced today that it has joined in filing a lawsuit against North Dakota’s governor, state superintendent and other state officials.  The lawsuit claims that North Dakota’s participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (“SBAC”) and its implementation of Common Core is unconstitutional and violates several federal laws that prohibit federal control of our public schools and their curriculum.

Lawsuit by the Thomas More Law Center Challenges the Constitutionality of Common Core in North Dakota

The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, teamed-up with attorney D. John Sauer of the St Louis, MO firm, Clark & Sauer, to file the lawsuit. This lawsuit follows Sauer’s success in stopping Missouri’s membership in SBAC on similar grounds.  Bismarck, ND Attorney, Arnold Fleck, has agreed to assist in the lawsuit as local counsel.

Plaintiffs in the case, who are all North Dakota residents and state taxpayers, include: Steve Cates, Catherine Cartier, Charles Cartier, and Robert Skarphol, who is also an elected member of the North Dakota House of Representatives.

The Compact Clause of the United States Constitution provides that “[n]o state shall, without the consent of Congress . . . enter into any agreement or compact with another state.” As the Smarter Balanced Consortium is an interstate compact which Congress did not authorize, its existence is a violation of the Constitution. Accordingly, North Dakota’s membership in the Consortium and membership fee payments of over a half million dollars per year, equate to participation in and funding of an illegal entity.

 In addition to violations of the Compact Clause, SBAC also violates laws enacted by Congress.  For nearly fifty years, federal statutes have prohibited the Federal Government—and, in particular, the federal Department of Education—from controlling educational policy, including curriculum decisions and educational-assessment programs in elementary and secondary education.

Although an increasing number of governors and state legislatures have expressed reservations about Common Core, a majority of states still belong to either SBAC or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (“PARCC”), both directed by the Federal Government.

North Dakota’s agreement to participate in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium leaves North Dakota schools little choice but to align their curriculum to meet the imposed national standards and assessments, allowing the federal Department of Education to effectively control public education in North Dakota.

Click here to read the full complaint

Moreover, mounting criticism by parents, teachers, and a growing number of political leaders, has prompted SBAC, PARCC and the federal Department of Education to make it difficult to withdraw from participation in a testing Consortium and statewide testing by threatening increased restrictions and loss of federal funding. The threat of loss of federal funding helped drive a growing controversy between parents and school administrators over parental opt-outs and test refusal.

Across the country, many parents, after often drawn-out battles, still saw their children subjected to “sit-and-stare” policies; suspensions; loss of honors, class trips, and athletic participation; or refused admittance to the classroom as a result of the opt-out. “Sit-and-stare” is a practice of certain school districts forbidding students who opt-out of testing from working on any schoolwork during testing hours and requiring that the students do nothing and possess no materials.  The students must sit in total silence and do nothing while the testing takes place.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented on the federalized control of public education: “States have surrendered their sovereignty over public education in exchange for federal dollars.  Membership in SBAC requires the adoption of Common Core; and as the standards are Common Core and the exams are Common Core, so the local curriculum must also be Common Core.”

The testing associated with Common Core and created by SBAC, and its companion consortium PARCC, remains one of the most contentious issues between parents and educators. The tests have been heavily criticized for issues ranging from their lack of validity and transparency to appropriateness and data collection, as well as the amount of stress they inflict upon students and teachers.

 The new wave of testing ushered in by SBAC and PARCC has sparked a national opt-out movement as students, teachers and administrators grapple with the heavy burden created by these assessments. As schools and teachers are evaluated based on these exams, the exam is increasingly becoming the only curriculum.

As a result, the Thomas More Law Center previously developed a Test Refusal and Student Privacy Protection Form and a Common Core Resource Page as a general reference and guide for concerned parents and individuals.

In a nutshell, SBAC’s existence, purpose, function, activities, governance, and manner of operation violates the Compact Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and federal statutes guaranteeing state and local control of curriculum, programs of instruction, and related matters in public schools.

Inequality: The Rhetoric and Reality by James A. Dorn

The publication of Thomas Piketty’s bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century has led to widespread attention on the rising gap between rich and poor, and to populist calls for government to redistribute income and wealth.

Purveyors of that rhetoric, however, overlook the reality that when the state plays a major role in leveling differences in income and wealth, economic freedom is eroded. The problem is, economic freedom is the true engine of progress for all people.

Income and wealth are created in the process of discovering and expanding new markets. Innovation and entrepreneurship extend the range of choices open to people. And yet not everyone is equal in their contribution to this process. There are differences among people in their abilities, motivations, and entrepreneurial talent, not to mention their life circumstances.

Those differences are the basis of comparative advantage and the gains from voluntary exchanges on private free markets. Both rich and poor gain from free markets; trade is not a zero- or negative-sum game.

Attacking the rich, as if they are guilty of some crime, and calling for state action to bring about a “fairer” distribution of income and wealth leads to an ethos of envy — certainly not one that supports the foundations of abundance: private property, personal responsibility, and freedom.

In an open market system, people who create new products and services prosper, as do consumers. Entrepreneurs create wealth and choices. The role of the state should be to safeguard rights to property and let markets flourish. When state power trumps free markets, choices are narrowed and opportunities for wealth creation are lost.

Throughout history, governments have discriminated against the rich, ultimately harming the poor. Central planning should have taught us that replacing private entrepreneurs with government bureaucrats merely politicizes economic life and concentrates power; it does not widen choices or increase income mobility.

Peter Bauer, a pioneer in development economics, recognized early on that “in a modern open society, the accumulation of wealth, especially great wealth, normally results from activities which extend the choices of others.”

Government has the power to coerce, but private entrepreneurs must persuade consumers to buy their products and convince investors to support their vision. The process of “creative destruction,” as described by Joseph Schumpeter, means that dynastic wealth is often short-lived.

Bauer preferred to use the term “economic differences” rather than “economic inequality.” He did so because he thought the former would convey more meaning than the latter. The rhetoric of inequality fosters populism and even extremism in the quest for egalitarian outcomes. In contrast, speaking of differences recognizes reality and reminds us that “differences in readiness to utilize economic opportunities — willingness to innovate, to assume risk, to organize — are highly significant in explaining economic differences in open societies.”

What interested Bauer was how to increase the range of choices open to people, not how to use government to reduce differences in income and wealth. As Bauer reminded us,

Political power implies the ability of rulers forcibly to restrict the choices open to those they rule. Enforced reduction or removal of economic differences emerging from voluntary arrangements extends and intensifies the inequality of coercive power.

Equal freedom under a just rule of law and limited government doesn’t mean that everyone will be equal in their endowments, motivations, or aptitudes. Disallowing those differences, however, destroys the driving force behind wealth creation and poverty reduction. There is no better example than China.

Under Mao Zedong, private entrepreneurs were outlawed, as was private property, which is the foundation of free markets. Slogans such as “Strike hard against the slightest sign of private ownership” allowed little room for improving the plight of the poor. The establishment of communes during the “Great Leap Forward” (1958–1961) and the centralization of economic decision making led to the Great Famine, ended civil society, and imposed an iron fence around individualism while following a policy of forced egalitarianism.

In contrast, China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping allowed the resurgence of markets and opened China to the outside world. Now the largest trading nation in the world, China has demonstrated that economic liberalization is the best cure for broadening people’s choices and has allowed hundreds of millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Deng’s slogan “To get rich is glorious” is in stark contrast to Mao’s leveling schemes. In 1978, and as recently as 2002, there were no Chinese billionaires; today there are 220. That change would not have been possible without the development of China as a trading nation.

There are now 536 billionaires in the United States and growing animosity against the “1 percent” — especially by those who were harmed by the Great Recession. Nevertheless, polls have shown that most Americans think economic growth is far more important than capping the incomes of the very rich or narrowing the income gap. Only 3 percent of those polled by CBS and the New York Times in January thought that economic inequality was the primary problem facing the nation. Most Americans are more concerned with income mobility — that is, moving up the income ladder — then with penalizing success.

Regardless, some politicians will use inflammatory rhetoric to make differences between rich and poor the focus of their campaigns in the presidential election season. In doing so, they should recognize the risks that government intervention in the creation and distribution of income and wealth pose for a free society and for all-around prosperity.

Government policies can widen the gap between rich and poor through corporate welfare, through unconventional monetary policy that penalizes savers while pumping up asset prices, and through minimum wage laws and other legislation that price low-skilled workers out of the market and thus impede income mobility.

A positive program designed to foster economic growth — and leave people free to choose — by lowering marginal tax rates on labor and capital, reducing costly regulations, slowing the growth of government, and normalizing monetary policy would be the best medicine to benefit both rich and poor.


James A. Dorn

James A. Dorn is vice president for monetary studies, editor of the Cato Journal, senior fellow, and director of Cato’s annual monetary conference.

The New Paganism? The Case against Pope Francis’s Green Encyclical by Max Borders

Paganism as a distinct and separate religion may perhaps be said to have died, although, driven out of the cities, it found refuge in the countryside, where it lingered long — and whence, indeed, its very name is derived. In a very real sense, however, it never died at all. It was only transformed and absorbed into Christianity. – James Westfall Thompson, An Introduction to Medieval Europe

In 2003, science-fiction writer Michael Crichton warned a San Francisco audience about the sacralization of the environment. Drawing an analogy between religion and environmentalism, Crichton said:

There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all.

We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

This analogy between religion and environmentalism is no longer a mere analogy.

Pope Francis, the highest authority in the Catholic Church — to whom many faithful look for spiritual guidance — has now fused church doctrine with environmental doctrine.

Let’s consider pieces of his recently released Encyclical Letter. One is reminded of a history in which the ideas of paganism (including the worship of nature) were incorporated into the growing medieval Church.

Excerpts from Pope Francis are shown in italics.


 

This sister protests the evil that we provoke, because of the irresponsible use and of the abuse of the goods that God has placed in her. We grew up thinking that we were its owners and rulers, allowed to plunder it.

Notice how Pope Francis turns the earth into a person. Sister. Mother. This kind of anthropomorphic trope is designed to make you think that, by virtue of driving your car, you’re also smacking your sibling. We’ve gone from “dominion over the animals and crawling things” to “plundering” our sister.

The violence that exists in the human heart wounded by sin is also manifested in the symptoms of the disease we feel in soil, water, air and in the living things. Therefore, among the most abandoned and ill treated poor we find our oppressed and devastated Earth, which “moans and suffers the pains of childbirth” [Romans 8:22].

First, if the state of the soil, water and air and living things is indeed symptomatic of our violent, sinful hearts, then the good news is that sin is on the decline. On every dimension the Pope names, the symptoms of environmental harm are getting better all the time — at least in our decadent capitalist country.

Do not take it on faith: here are data.

There are forms of pollution which affect people every day. The exposure to air pollutants produces a large spectrum of health effects, in particular on the most poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.

This will always be true to some degree, of course, but it’s less true than any time in human history. Pope Francis fails to acknowledge the tremendous gains humanity has made. For example, human life expectancy in the Paleolithic period (call this “Eden”) was 33 years. Life expectancy in the neolithic period was 20 years. Globally, life expectancy is now more than 68 years, and in the West, it is passing 79 years.

Yes, there is pollution, and, yes, the poor are affected by it. But the reason why the poor are affected most by air pollution is because they’re poor — and because they don’t have access to fossil fuel energy. Pope Francis never bothers to draw the connection between wealth and health because he thinks of both production and consumption as sinful. Brad Plumer writes at Vox,

About 3 billion people around the world — mostly in Africa and Asia, and mostly very poor — still cook and heat their homes by burning coal, charcoal, dung, wood, or plant residue in their homes. These homes often have poor ventilation, and the smoke can cause all sorts of respiratory diseases.

The wealthy people of the West, including Pope Francis, don’t suffer from this problem. That’s because liberal capitalist countries — i.e., those countries who “plunder” their sister earth — do not suffer from energy poverty. They do not suffer from inhaling fumes and particulate matter from burning dung becausethey are “sinful,” because they are capitalist.

See the problem? The Pope wants to have it both ways. He has confused the disease (unhealthy indoor air pollution) with the cure (cheap, clean, abundant and mass-produced energy from fossil fuels).

Add to that the pollution that affects all, caused by transportation, by industrial fumes, by the discharge of substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, by fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and toxic pesticides in general. The technology, which, connected to finance, claims to be the only solution to these problems, in fact is not capable of seeing the mystery of the multiple relationships which exist between things, and because of this, sometimes solves a problem by creating another.

It is strange to read admonitions from someone about the “multiple relationships that exist between things,” only to see him ignore those relationships in the same paragraph. Yes, humans often create problems by solving others, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t solve the problems. It just means we should solve the big problems and then work on the smaller ones.

Solving problems even as we discover different problems is an inherent part of the human condition. Our creativity and innovation and struggle to overcome the hand nature has dealt us is what makes us unique as a species.

Perhaps this is, for Pope Francis, some sort of Green Original Sin: “Thou shalt just deal with it.” But to the rest of us, it is the means by which we live happier, more comfortable lives here under the firmament.

The Earth, our home, seems to turn more and more into a huge garbage dump. In many places on the planet, the elderly remember with nostalgia the landscapes of the past, which now appear to be submerged in junk.

If you get your understanding of waste management and the environment from the movie Wall-E, then you might have the impression that we’re burying our sister in garbage. But as the guys over at EconPop have pointed out, land used for waste management is also governed by laws of supply and demand — which means entrepreneurs and innovators are finding better and less expensive ways to reuse, reduce, recycle, and manage our waste.

The industrial waste as well as the chemicals used in cities and fields can produce an effect of bio-accumulation in the bodies of the inhabitants of neighboring areas, which occurs even when the amount of a toxic element in a given place is low. Many times one takes action only when these produced irreversible effects on people’s health.

People, on net, are living longer and healthier than they ever have in the history of our species. What evidence does the Holy Father have that irreversible effects on people’s health rises to the level of an emergency that demands drafting in a papal encyclical? And why focus on the costs of “chemicals” without a single mention of overwhelming their human benefit? Indeed, which chemicals? This kind of sloppy thinking is rather unbecoming of someone who is (we are constantly reminded) a trained chemist.

Certain substances can have health effects, but so can failing to produce the life-enhancing goods in the first place. The answer is not to beg forgiveness for using soaps and plastics (or whatever), but to develop the institutions that prevent people and companies from imposing harmful costs onto others without taking responsibility for it.

The key is to consider the trade-offs that we will face no matter what, not to condemn and banish “impure” and unnatural substances from our lives.

These issues are intimately linked to the culture of waste, affecting so much the human beings left behind when the things turn quickly into trash.

Now we’re getting somewhere. This is where Pope Francis would like to add consumerism to production on the list of environmentally deadly sins.

Let us realize, for example, that most of the paper that is produced is thrown away and not recycled.

Heaven forfend! So would Pope Francis have us burn fossil fuels to go around and collect processed pulp? Is he unaware that demand for paper is what drivesthe supply of new trees? We aren’t running out of trees because we throw away paper. The Pope’s plan sounds like it could have been hatched in Berkeley, California, instead of Vatican City. And yet worlds have collided.

Michael Munger puts matters a little differently:

Mandatory recycling, by definition, takes material that would not be recycled voluntarily, diverts it from the waste stream, and handles it several times before using it again in a way that wastes resources.

The only explanation for this behavior that I can think of is a religious ceremony, a sacrifice of resources as a form of worship. I have no problem if people want to do that. As religions go, it is fairly benign. Butrequiring that religious sacrifice of resources is a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

Well, Professor Munger, this is the Pope we’re talking about.

We find it hard to admit that the operation of natural ecosystems is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients that feed the herbivores; these in turn feed the carnivores, which provide a lot of organic waste, which give rise to a new generation of plants. In contrast, the industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the ability to absorb and reuse waste and slag.

Where is the evidence for this? These are matters of faith, indeed. All this time I thought the industrial system did have the ability to absorb and reuse waste: It’s called the system of prices, property, and profit/loss. The problem is not that such a “recycling” system doesn’t exist, it’s that corruption and government distorts the system of property, prices and profit/loss so that our economic ecosystem doesn’t operate as it should.

Indeed, when you have the Pope suggesting we burn gas to save glass, you have to wonder why the industrial system is so messed up. A system that “requires us to limit the use of non-renewable resources, to moderate consumption, to maximize the efficiency of the exploitation, to reuse and to recycle,” is called the market. And where it doesn’t exist is where you’ll find the worst instances of corruption and environmental degradation.

Then, of course, there’s climate change. In the interests of brevity I won’t quote the whole thing. But here’s the punchline, which might have been plucked straight from the IPCC Summary for Policymakers:

Climate change is a global problem with serious environmental, social, economic, distribution and policy implications, and make up one of the main current challenges for humanity. The heaviest impacts will probably fall in the coming decades upon developing countries.

This might be true. What the Holy Father fails to appreciate is that the heaviest impacts of policies designed to mitigate climate change will definitely fall upon developing countries. (That is, if the developing countries swear off cheap energy and embrace any sort of global climate treaty. If history is a guide, they most certainly will not.)

Meanwhile, the biggest benefits of burning more carbon-based fossil fuels will accrue the poorest billions on earth. The Pope should mention that if he really has their interests at heart or in mind.

But many symptoms indicate that these effects could get worse if we continue the current patterns of production and consumption.

“Patterns of production and consumption”? This is a euphemism for wealth creation. What is wealth except production and consumption of resources to further human need and desire?

His suggested cure for our dangerous patterns of wealth creation, of course, is good ole demand-side management. Wiser, more enlightened minds (like his, he hopes) will let you know which light bulbs to buy, what sort of car to drive, and which insolvent solar company they’ll “invest” your money in. You can even buy papal indulgences in the form of carbon credits. As the late Alexander Cockburn wrote,

The modern trade is as fantastical as the medieval one. … Devoid of any sustaining scientific basis, carbon trafficking is powered by guilt, credulity, cynicism and greed, just like the old indulgences, though at least the latter produced beautiful monuments.

But the most important thing to realize here is that the “current” patterns of production and consumption are never current. The earthquakes of innovation and gales of creative destruction blow through any such observed patterns. The price system, with its lightning-quick information distribution mechanism is far, far superior to any elites or energy cronies. And technological innovation, though we can’t predict just how, will likely someday take us as far away from today’s energy status quo, just as we have moved away from tallow, whale oil, and horse-drawn carriages.

The Pope disagrees with our rose-tinted techno-optimism, saying “some maintain at all costs the myth of progress and say that the ecological problems will be solved simply by new technical applications.”

The Pope sits on his golden throne and looks over the vast expanse of time and space — from hunter-gatherers running mammoths off cliffs to Americans running Teslas off electric power, from the USA in 1776 and 2015, from England before and after the Industrial Revolution, from Hong Kong and Hiroshima in 1945 to their glorious present — and sneers: progress is a myth, environmental problems can’t be fixed through innovation, production is destroying the earth, consumption is original sin.

Innovation is the wellspring of all progress. Policies to stop or undo innovation in energy, chemistry, industry, farming, and genetics are a way to put humanity in a bell jar, at best. At worst they will put some of us in the dark and others in early graves. They are truly fatal conceits.

And yet, the Pope has faith in policymakers to know just which year we should have gotten off the train of innovation. William F. Buckley famously said conservatives “stand athwart history, yelling ‘Stop!’” Greens are similar, except they’re yelling “Go back!”

Therefore it has become urgent and compelling to develop policies so that in the coming years the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases is reduced drastically, for instance by replacing fossil fuels and by developing renewable energy sources.

I reflect again on the notion that this effort might be just another way of the Church embracing and extending a competitor religion. Then again, Pope Francis so often shows that he is a true and faithful green planner. In an unholy alliance with those who see the strategic benefit in absorbing environmentalism, the Holy Father has found the perfect way to restore the power of the Church over politics, economics, culture, and the state to its former glory.


Max Borders

Max Borders is the editor of the Freeman and director of content for FEE. He is also cofounder of the event experience Voice & Exit and author of Superwealth: Why we should stop worrying about the gap between rich and poor.


Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the editor of Anything Peaceful. He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.