Joe Biden’s Dangerous Game

RGBStock.com WW2US vice-president Joe Biden put American exceptionalism on display in a big way Saturday (February 7), laying down a tough line of patter to the 2015 Munich Security Conference. Biden called on Russian president Vladimir Putin to “get out of Ukraine,” doubling down on US threats to escalate conflict in the Russia-Ukraine border region by arming Kiev’s forces.

“Too many times, President Putin has promised peace and delivered tanks, troops and weapons,” quoth Biden, by way of promising peace and simultaneously promising to deliver tanks, weapons and possibly US troops.

At issue are two new “ethnically Russian” states — the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics — which seceded from Ukraine in the wake of last year’s US-backed coup and the installation in Kiev of a regime friendlier to the US and the European Union and more hostile toward Russia.

Biden’s newly minted opposition to ethnic secessionist movements rings hollow, given his enthusiastic backing of such movements in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He recalls his support for Bosnian and Kosovar secessionists — up to and including US bombing campaigns and ground troop interventions versus Serbia which  dwarf even the most inflated claims of Russian meddling in the current conflict — as his “proudest moment in public life.” Hypocrisy much, Mr. Vice-President?

Biden, US president Barack Obama, and the more hawkish contingent in Congress might also do well to reconsider the practicality of a counter-insurgency campaign in the region.  Given the complete failures and follow-on consequences of the 21st century’s first two such US campaigns — in Iraq and Afghanistan — a betting man would likely put long odds on success in a third such misadventure. Especially one which antagonizes a major military power with the capacity to, in extremis, take things nuclear. But that same gambler would put similarly long odds on the likelihood of such reconsideration.

It took 58,000 American deaths in Vietnam to raise even minor self-doubt among American politicians on their post-World War II conception of themselves as “leaders of the free world,” disposing of the military might to impose their will around the globe in, as George III put it to Britain’s rebellious colonies in 1775, “all cases whatsoever.”

The fall of the Soviet Union and the sugar high of victory in the first Gulf War dispelled that doubt. 9/11 put the War Party completely back in America’s driver’s seat. And we’ve been cruisin’ for a bruisin’ ever since.

If Joe Biden and Company can’t figure out a way to gracefully walk away from the mess they’ve made in Ukraine and let Russia, Ukraine, the breakaway states and the EU settle their own arguments, this conflict may very well turn out to  be that bruisin’.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Abolitionism Was, and Still Is, No Failure

RGBStock.com Rainbow WorldHistorian Jon Grinspan argues (“Was Abolitionism a Failure?” New York Times, February 1) against modern-day activists, from the Heritage Foundation’s Jim DeMint to MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who view abolitionism as a successful movement worth emulating. Grinspan credits slavery’s end not to abolitionists’ unbending ideals but to “the flexibility of … moderates.” Slavery died because its advocates were even less willing to compromise.

But all new ideas are the work of extremists. There’s no need to preemptively tone them down; that will happen with their implementation anyway. The Libertarian Party’s call for “the cessation of state oppression and harassment of homosexual men and women, that they, at last, be accorded their full rights as individuals” was extremist in 1976.

The unmatched sea change in views on gay rights since then was in spite of the realpolitik of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Voltairine de Cleyre summed up pre-Civil War attempts to impede slavery by political compromise as “one long record of ‘how-not-to-do-it.'” For both issues, the reshaping would, in Yale lawyer Charles Reich’s phrase, “originate with the individual and with culture, and … change the political structure only as its final act.”

Grinspan points out the slaveholders’ many strategic mistakes. But an abolitionist victory by default would have been Pyrrhic in the long run. Instead, they led a permanent shift in the range of acceptable public views.  Only thus could they put an institution granted respectability for millennia into the dustbin of history. To Grinspan, the sheer range of causes likened to abolitionism — DeMint’s Tea Party; Hayes’ climate change — is proof that such invoking is devoid of content. But the impact of abolitionism is visible: All those causes frame themselves as liberation movements. Slavery was unabashedly authoritarian.

The Liberty Party was the most uncompromising abolitionist political party. Grinspan notes its vote-getting was anemic. Yet it became the core around which dissidents from the mainstream Whig and Democratic parties formed the more successful Free Soil Party (whose slogan “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men” shows the natural interlock of liberations).

Grinspan downplays the main abolitionist publication, William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, because its circulation was less than 3,000. That happens to be the number of copies of the first edition of Karl Marx’s Capital sold in Russia. Garrison’s unyielding advocacy for full abolition forestalled Free Soil’s dissipation. The party in turn formed the basis for the Republican Party of Lincoln.

As Murray Rothbard explained, abolitionism is not just of “antiquarian interest.” Since “there are a great many analogues to slavery today … similar alternatives will have to be faced once more.” And similar tactics remain the most effective way to face them.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).

Rule by Experts is More Dangerous than Measles

RGBStock.com Vaccine PhotoI’d like to throw two numbers at you, but I can’t. I only have one to throw. That number is zero. It represents the number of deaths attributed to measles in the United States since 2003.

The second number is the number of deaths attributed to measles vaccines in the US since 2003. I don’t have that number because, while the Centers for Disease Control tracks “adverse event reports” for vaccines, it doesn’t make those statistics easy to find or compare.

But here’s a sample: In the first five months of 2011, 118 cases of measles were reported in the US. No one died of measles during that period. During the same period, CDC recorded 698 “adverse event reports” on measles vaccines, including combination vaccines like the Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine. Those reports include four deaths, but we can’t know if the vaccines actually caused the deaths because these reports are not usually thoroughly investigated.

No, I’m not here to regale you with unproven (and probably unprovable) tales of vaccine-related autism, religious arguments against vaccination, and so forth. But the simple fact of the matter is that both vaccination and non-vaccination entails risks.  In each and every case, someone has to weigh those risks and make the decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate. Who should that someone be?

My answer is “the patient or the patient’s guardian.” Not because I reject the efficacy or morality of vaccines or the concept of “herd immunity” (I don’t), nor because I think them generally unsafe (adverse reactions are very much the exception, not the rule), but because I reject one-size-fits-all rule by designated experts on specious “public health” grounds.

Let me offer an analogy:

Some experts say that moderate consumption of alcohol — two to six drinks per week — reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death among men over 50.

I’m approaching 50, and although I’ve not been a big drinker for many years, I’ve begun trying to conform to the suggested booze regime. That’s a decision I am, and should be, free to make.

But suppose I consider drinking more dangerous than not drinking. Or that I just don’t like the taste of alcohol. Suppose I decide not to consume my minimum two drinks per week.

Is it OK for you to come to my house, hold me down on the floor, and pour Old Crow down my throat because I might otherwise someday have a heart attack at the wheel of my car and run down a family of four as they cross the street?

That’s the logic of “rule by public health experts.” It sounds silly  —  it IS silly — when applied to straight Kentucky bourbon. It’s equally silly, and equally dangerous, when applied to vaccinations. Nothing against experts, but their advice should be advisory, not mandatory.

Reality doesn’t offer us the option of eliminating risk. But to the extent that public policy offers us the option of preserving freedom of choice, we should vigorously guard and exercise that option.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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