The Munk Debate: Worlds in Collision

The much-touted debate on NSA spying sponsored by Canada’s Aurea Foundation between Michael Hayden and Alan Dershowitz on one side and Glenn Greenwald and Alexis Ohanian had few surprises — except for the surprise appearance of Edward Snowden in a video made for the occasion. In it, Snowden explains the power and scope of the National Security Agency: Hayden and Dershowitz spent the rest of the hour and a half or so denying that the pervasive surveillance described by Snowden and Greenwald even exists.

It was a case of worlds in collision – the truth presented by Greenwald/Ohanian and the outright lies of Hayden and Dershowitz. The latter never laid a glove on Greenwald, in spite of their tortured attempts to do so, while Glenn got Hayden good when he attributed Hayden’s contention that we might have stopped the 9/11 attacks if the NSA had its programs in place at the time: Hayden, Glenn averred, was merely covering up his own ineptitude on 9/11, when he was in charge at Ft. Meade. If a cartoonish “Ka-POW!” appeared over Hayden’s head at that point I wouldn’t have been surprised. Another Haydenism: “’Collect is all’ doesn’t mean collect it all!” That provoked a few startled laughs.

The debate cannot even be called a debate because the two sides simply were not talking about the same subject. Hayden-Dershowitz refused to discuss the actually existing NSA spying programs. Dershowitz, instead, insisted on taking what he called a “middle position,” which would involve “some rights violations” in the name of the “greater good.” Hayden, for his part, completely denied that the NSA’s surveillance system was violating anyone’s rights.

“Trust me,” said Hayden – and the audience laughed.

Why Criticize Your Own Government — and leave out others?

This is the answer to the question posed in the title:

“My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that: namely, I can do something about it. So even if the US was responsible for 2% of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2% I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.

— Noam Chomsky, cited by Glenn Greenwald

Where Libertarians Should Really Stand on Crimea

John Glaser’s blog post on Crimea is typically American – i.e. it is bathed in unconscious albeit ferocious nationalism.

He starts out by accusing me of excusing “the crimes and misdeeds of foreign regimes that Washington sees as antagonistic.”

The crimes of foreign governments are the responsibility of the people who live in those countries: my critique of their actions has no power to effect any change as far as they are concerned, and it would be pointless for me to tilt at those particular windmills. I live in the United States, which is currently the main danger to peace and freedom in the world. Glaser admits this later when he writes that Ron Paul is “correct, in my opinion, to place criticism of U.S. foreign policy as a priority over that of other governments.” Therefore my criticism is directed at Washington, and yes I do admit – nay, proclaim! – my “grave bias” against the undisputed champion of death and destruction worldwide. The “invasion” of Crimea produced zero casualties: compare that to what happened when we “liberated” Iraq.

The rest of Glaser’s piece consists of hand-wringing over the presence of Russian troops in Crimea – a presence agreed to by Ukraine. If “nobody knows exactly how many” came in after or before the vote, as Glaser puts it, then how do we know there are any “extra” troops present? Glaser doesn’t know, as he admits, yet he uses the word “extra” so as to sound like all the other Washington pundits who sanctimoniously condemn the “invasion.”

But this is just splitting hairs. The underlying reality is that if some past President of the United States had handed over,  say, Maine to Canada on a whim – as Nikita Khrushchev handed Crimea over to Ukraine in 1953 – would anyone in the US dispute the results of a referendum reintegrating it back into the Union?

Glaser whines that some voters weren’t sent mysterious “vouchers” enabling them to vote in the Crimean referendum, but this hardly invalidates the vote. Crimeans have voted repeatedly – when they’ve been allowed to do so – in favor of reunion with Russia, which has held Crimea since the days of Catherine the Great. The last referendum, called by the Crimean parliament in 1992, was stopped by Kiev’s threat of force. The recent referendum was Crimea’s revenge – and good for them!

Glaser continues:

“Crimeans do have a right to self-determination. And they very well may have voted to rejoin Russia even without Moscow’s meddling and military incursions. But it is just a fantasy to believe this is anything other than an interventionist power grab by Russia. Obviously, this doesn’t mean one ought to support U.S. intervention of any kind. But I think it does mean libertarians, when asked directly, should not defend Putin’s regime.”

This paragraph conflates several different issues. Defending the referendum as legitimate has nothing to do with defending “Putin’s regime.” This accusation is a typical smear tactic designed to discredit arguments that cannot be answered by any other means. Putin is a typical statist, but that doesn’t mean his every action on the world stage is to be condemned. For example, he opposed Obama’s plan to bomb Syria: is giving him credit for that “defending Putin’s regime”? By Glaser’s standards – yes. By rational standards – of course not.

Contra Glaser, everything that comes out of Washington is indeed “without merit,” i.e. it is mendacity unadulterated by any meritorious substance, the sole purpose of which is to justify American and European expansionism.

What’s important about Glaser’s contribution to the discussion – so far, at least –is what it leaves out: a years long systematic subversion of Ukrainian politics, with millions of US taxpayer dollars pouring into the coffers of groups and individuals who are little more than Washington’s sock-puppets. He doesn’t mention this at all – yet more evidence of the unconscious American nationalism distorting his view of the Ukrainian events.

The American people have had it with military intervention, and Washington is adapting to this with characteristic quickness: they’re switching to deploying “soft power,” which can be just as deadly as the hard kind.

There was nothing “perfectly respectful” about the vicious attack on Ron Paul by the “President” of Students for the State Department Liberty: like Glaser, he conflated support for Putin’s “regime” with support for the right of the Crimean people to join Russia if they so wish. This is the latest version of the typical neocon accusation that accompanies all their attacks on those of us who oppose their vision of an world dominated by Washington. That Glaser is echoing this pernicious nonsense is sad indeed.

This silly idea that we are obligated to equally condemn the depredations of all governments everywhere is rubbish: it posits a moral equivalence between some Third World hellhole that never respected human rights and never pretended to with a country — the most powerful in the world — that does much worse in the name of “freedom” and “democracy.”

UPDATE: I see here that Glaser is citing Anthony Gregory, who blogs for the Independent Institute, in his defense. But Gregory’s argument is fatally flawed: he cites Tom Paine’s maniacal peroration to the effect that “My country is the world!” A crazy — and completely untrue — statement. This is what the warlords of Washington believe — and act on. But Gregory’s country is most certainly not the world — not if the world has anything to say about it.

New Columnist: Lucy Steigerwald

I’m so glad we have a brand new columnist in the fabulous Lucy Steigerwald!

She’s a columnist for, previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine, and blogs at She is most angry, she tells us, "about police, prisons, and wars." Well, that’s a start!

Today is her first weekly column, which has as its theme "The War At Home." Her beat: all the manifold ways our militarized culture impacts our everyday lives. Yes, we’ve given her a wide berth – because we’re damn sure she’ll more than live up to it!

In Defense of Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment which specifies that our elected officials are subject to the same laws that rule us plebeians. How could a libertarian — or, really, anybody — possibly object to that?

John Glaser has managed to do it, I’m afraid.

Glaser says “The government is constantly breaking the law and taking actions that are clearly illegal for ordinary citizens to take.” Well, uh, yes — that’s precisely what the amendment aims to end.

Glaser goes through a long and tiresome litany of how the system of unequal treatment before the law benefits the politically connected — apparently without realizing that he’s undermining his own case. Which is odd.

What Glaser is really arguing, however, is that it would be impossible to put an end to this system: apparently,  according to the Glaserite view, it makes no sense to try to limit the  power and privileges of government officials. Passage of the amendment will only be “symbolic,” he avers.

Really? Why is that necessarily so? Glaser doesn’t say.

And even if the amendment isn’t enforced, the process of having it encoded in law would in itself score a victory for liberty. The reason is because it highlights the libertarian class analysis of society: that is, it dramatizes the privileged status of the political class — and  the subjection of the rest of us.

Glaser’s blithe dismissal of Sen. Paul “throwing red meat to his libertarian and  Tea Party populist followers” is, frankly, weird: isn’t it about time somebody threw us libertarians some red meat? For years politicians have been throwing red meat to warmongers, Prohibitionists, professional busybodies, free-lunchers, and you-name-it: isn’t it our turn? Isn’t this the Libertarian Moment? Or don’t we get to have a Moment?

Glaser’s holier-than-thou approach to Paul’s admirable effort is baffling: what’s wrong with putting on a “political show,” anyway? Are we trying to convince people and win them to our cause, or must we be content to sit on the sidelines writing clever little blog posts and sniffing disdainfully at any constructive effort to effect real social change?

Far from being sneered at, Sen. Paul should be commended and supported — and it’s really kind of appalling that I have to point this out.

Shocking, Isn’t It?

I’m shocked — shocked! — that there is gambling going on in this casino:

“A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

“Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.”

Oh, but don’t worry, it’s all “legal”:

“But two senior DEA officials defended the program, and said trying to ‘recreate’ an investigative trail is not only legal but a technique that is used almost daily.”

Feel better now? Move along, nothing to see here…. But not everyone is taking it as calmly as I am:

“‘I have never heard of anything like this at all,’ said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011.”

Really? I have ….