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roadzThe headline: “Why I fled libertarianism — and became a liberal”.

The subhead: “I was a Ron Paul delegate back in 2008 — now I’m a Democrat. Here’s my personal tale of disgust and self-discovery”.

Edwin Lyngar was a Ron Paul delegate in 2008. Once he got to the GOP convention,  he was baffled by the number of Birthers, Truthers, MoonTruthers and Chemtrailers who apparently made up his fellow Paulbots. (Lyngar also casually equates interest in gold, the Fed, and the JFK assassination with such conspiracy theories. He is not alone in this attitude — the highly-touted conspiracy theory  poll from last spring was similarly sloppy. An enthusiasm for monetary policy is dry, so why not spice it up by implying that to believe in the gold standard is to be sure that the president is from Kenya?)

Lyngar had no libertarian moment of aha!, thanks to a Hayek book, or a Ron Paul speech. He doesn’t really explain why he cared enough to be a delegate for Paul in 2008. He was just vaguely born libertarian, in that he comes from a small town in Nevada where, he writes, “we burned our own garbage and fired guns in the back yard.” He even admits that libertarians are pro-pot, mostly pro-gay, and mostly anti-war, so they have their bright spots still. But also, when he left his small town, his eyes were opened:

I learned that libertarians are made for lots of reasons, like reading the bad fiction of Ayn Rand or perhaps the passable writing of Robert Heinlein. In my experience, most seemed to be poor, white and undereducated. They were contortionists, justifying the excesses of the capitalist elite, despite being victims if libertarian politics succeed.

If you think that selfishness and cruelty are fantastic personal traits, you might be a libertarian. In the movement no one will ever call you an asshole, but rather, say you believe in radical individualism.

Heinlein is only “passable”? Buddy, you read the wrong Heinlein. And if you’re in the libertarian movement, someone will call you an asshole at some point. Or they will call you a statist. Though there are generally agreed upon tenets in libertarianism, there is also tedious in-fighting and minute-to-vital points of disagreement on issues, interpretations, and conclusions. We are not your cheap Dagney Taggart or Randy Weaver jokes, as much as you try to cram us into that convenient mold. We are diverse, and by God, we will shoot ourselves in the foot whenever possible. (Lyngar does acknowledge this incompetence later in the piece, so at least he’s not one of those “dear God, the libertarians have taken over!” folks.)

Lyngar is mostly done with specifics after his live from the GOP Convention ’08 beginning. He changed slowly after his realization that libertarianism indeed attracts weirdos. Soon he was crying for unspecified, but positive reasons when Obama was elected president. And then the financial crisis:

Libertarians were (rightly) furious when our government bailed out the banks, but they fought hardest against help for ordinary Americans. They hated unemployment insurance and reduced school lunches. I used to say similar things, but in such a catastrophic recession isn’t the government supposed to help? Isn’t that the lesson of the Great Depression?

I’m going to give our friend the benefit of the doubt and say, sure, okay, you met three libertarians who were most passionately opposed to school lunches. That was their number one issue, closely followed by the horrors of unemployment insurance. But there are a lot of libertarians who would prefer to tackle the bigger issues first: war, prisons, police, the drug war, financial ruin for the country, occupational licensing, zoning laws, lack of school choice, the death penalty, transportation, whatever you like. And you would know that if you spoke to more than three libertarians — that no, most of them wouldn’t start with cutting the lunches for shoeless Appalachian children program. They’d probably start with trimming the military, the Department of Homeland Security, or that sentimental favorite, the Drug Enforcement Administration.

(And no, that is not the lesson of the Great Depression. That is not even close to being the lesson of the Great Depression. Suggesting that means you paid no attention to economics even while you were a libertarian, dude.)

Lyngar goes on to marry a Canadian liberal, then be disgusted by the racist Birthers in the Tea Party movement. He lurches towards nuance by implying that libertarians who work with the Tea Party are not necessarily the same thing as those religious freaks, etc. But then he notes that at last he has learned to “care about children — even poor ones.” Thereby separating himself from monstrous libertarians, he writes:

I love the National Park system. The best parts of the America I love are our communities. My libertarian friends might call me a fucking commie (they have) or a pussy, but extreme selfishness is just so isolating and cruel. Libertarianism is unnatural, and the size of the federal government is almost irrelevant. The real question is: what does society need and how do we pay for it?

To paraphrase the best French guy ever, Frederic Bastiat, man, liberals really seem to think that if you’re not for government funded, or government-run institutions, you must be against them entirely. Parks are awesome. Some parks also have a long history of hilariously-arrogant mismanagement by government. And it’s cool that you love communities. That means literally nothing in general, and nothing specific to libertarianism. Most of us do not wish to live alone, Unibomber-style. But we’re very keen on anyone’s right to do the best they can at achieving that sort of lifestyle.

The best part of the piece — the part that elevates it to an artful act of trolling — might be the very end. Old Ed says of libertarians: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” That quote, and its accompanying viewpoint, is common in libertarianism. It sounds arrogant, but it’s the evangelizing of a fringe belief that is forever trying to gain converts. How else do you change minds except by convincing someone they are mistaken? And it is no different than liberals who shake their heads at all those folks who “vote against their own interests” — meaning, not for Democrats. To them, libertarians, if they’re not cold, rich, Randian cutouts, they are stupidly opposed to the communitarian pleasures of the left that could benefit them so much.

We’re all snobs when we’re in our own Google Groups, bars, or political rallies. There’s nothing wrong with reveling in “yes, totally! That!” for an evening. But the folks at Salon have the ideological privilege of not ever needing to convert libertarians to their viewpoints. Liberals often treat every conservative victory (one which with libertarians may or may not agree) as an assurance that the barbarians are at the gates. Mentions cuts, and there is nothing between that and Somalia. Liberals refuse to believe that their view of the proper role of government has been a dominant one for decades. They suffer from being The Man denial.

So then, what is the the point of this piece? Optimistically, we could say it could help prove to Salon readers that all libertarians aren’t monsters. Why, there’s always the hope that they will change their evil ways! But it’s more banal than that. This intensely shallow piece is solely an exercise in back-patting. It’s one man’s courageous story of being saved from the darkness of everything Not Liberal, without even the drama of a road to Damascus moment. It’s just that the election of Obama, and the worst of the Tea Party eventually took him on a self-satisfied journey away from conspiratorial meanies to the safe ” bosom of conventional liberalism.” He finally “developed [his] own values.” But a vague sense that libertarianism by nature is cold, cruel, and crazy is not an analysis of an ideology.

Some libertarians choose to interpret the recent cascade of anti-libertarian pieces on Alternet, Salon, and NSFWCorp the last few months as proof that the philosophy is getting somewhere — it can no longer be ignored by the mainstream. But Lyndar’s piece confirms lazy liberal dominance, because why try? Why fight libertarian beliefs, when you can simply revel in having beaten their imaged end-game, as Alternet did recently, — Libertopia apparently outlaws feeding or clothing the homeless! — or simply rejoice in having banished its evil from your own mind, as Lyndar does here.

Last week CNN´s Crimes of the Century — a show that has so far covered cases like the Unibomber, the DC sniper, and Andrea Yates — decided to tackle the 1993 Waco standoff between federal law enforcement and the Branch Davidian sect. And the end result, inexplicably produced by Ridley Scott, is one of the worst, most dishonest tellings of those still-controversial events that I have seen in a long time. By 2013, the usual thesis on Waco — even coming from lefties — is that it was a major law enforcement fuck-up, if not a purposeful federal holocaust. CNN has decided that the way to approach this tragic event with the right amount of sadness is to have a lot of tearful federal agents reminiscing about how they wanted to rescue those kids. And that’s all.

Here are the individuals CNN interviewed:

  • Davy Aguilera, ATF
  • Randy Parsons, FBI
  • Byron Sage, FBI
  • Jim Cavanaugh, FBI
  • The then-Editor in Chief of the Waco Herald-Tribune, the paper that called Koresh ¨The Sinful Messiah¨
  • Brian Levin from something called ¨The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism¨
  • Errol Southerns, author of Homegrown Violent Extremism
  • Clive Doyle, a Davidian who still believes, who doesn´t come off well, and whose 18-year-old daughter was ¨married¨ to Koresh. Doyle did not rescue her, or — apparently — attempt to.

Not included:

  • A single credible person to challenge the pro-fed narrative.

Here is a short list of nuance-building facts that CNN failed to mention in their hour:

  • That the government used the baseless accusation of meth manufacturing to get access to Bradley Fighting vehicles and other military tech for the raid. (Thanks, Reagan.)
  • The 911 call the Branch Davidians made shortly after the shoot-out with the ATF began. Koresh called 911 about an hour into the siege as well.
  • An explanation, or a pressing question about why the ATF did not stop the February 28 raid, even after learning that the Davidians knew they were coming. Aguilera says he’s sure that the raid would have succeeded if they had had the element of surprise, and then the narrator brushes past that with a hand-waving, drama-building piece of nonsense, “the impetus to act had already reached critical mass.”
  • The feds’ refusal to release the footage that David Koresh and others shot inside the building to the media, out of fears that it would build sympathy for the sect.
  • The Feds cutting Koresh’s access to the media, and them being barred from Mt. Carmel and kept more than two miles away. (“In over thirty years, twenty-seven of which have been with Time-Life, I have covered wars and riots — you name it. I have never been restrained as I was in Waco, and I will say needlessly and senselessly.”– said Shelly Katz, a photographer.)
  • The feds use of incendiaries, and their denial of that fact for six years. 
  • The fact that the feds bulldozed the site after only a week of examination. 
  • Any evidence of the dangers of six hours of exposure to CS gas on children.

The biggest lingering questions — who started the fire on April 19, and who shot first in the February 28 raid — are addressed in a pro-fed fashion. Allegations that the shoot-out began after agents shot the Davidians’ dogs are not mentioned. The disappearance of the front door is not mentioned. (A lot of this comes from Waco: The Rules of Engagement, but I wrote a whole damn thesis largely about the event as well, meaning I have read multiple books and media reports.) The nod to the controversy of who shot first being as such is a recording of a phone call where Koresh says the feds did it. Dead, delusional Davis Koresh gets to say it, but nobody else alive or with credibility gets to say it. We also get the Editor in Chief of the Waco Herald-Tribune saying ¨the only person who will ever know who shot first is the person who shot first” which is a little better.

The feds seem moved, some tear up, giving them the opportunity to express regret for how things went down. Aguilera says the ATF agents had candy in their pockets for the kids. Sage says he arrived after a 45 minute shoot-out and over the phone, Koresh’s second in command screamed that the feds had no right to be there. Again, the 911 calls from various Davidians are not mentioned.

The shoot-out lasted around two hours. Doyle simply says he doesn’t deny that Davidians shot back when fired upon. The footage of ATF agents screaming at and attacking a KWTX-TV cameraman is included without any enlightening narration.

The narrator moves on with ¨what started as a carefully-planned raid…¨ (That seems like it’s pushing it a bit, considering.)

The next section is devoted to a compilation of Koresh lying and putting off the time when he will come out and surrender. This is true, as far as I know. Two different religious professors wrote a book called Why Waco? which suggests that approaching Koresh from a religious perspective, as opposed to that of a conman and criminal, might have lead to a different outcome. None of this is to defend Koresh, who was a creep, a cult-leader, and a child rapist.  But since the stakes for resolving the situation were as high as they were, it’s indefensible that the feds only slightly pursued this avenue of negotiation, giving up all too soon out of impatience and a conviction that Koresh’s mad opinions weren’t sincere.

For the next 51 days, the feds grow more annoyed.  They harass the Davidians with the sounds of rabbit slaughter and ¨These Boots Were Made for Walking.¨ They cut the power and water, then point to the horrible situation the children are living in. Finally, they get impatient and shiny new Attorney General Janet Reno okays the use of CS gas in the infamous FBI assault.

The disturbing aesthetic of the tanks smashing the walls, the voice of Byron Sage over the bullhorn saying ¨submit to the proper authorities¨ is not acknowledged by the narration as anything troubling. Aguilera says he did not know about the FBI’s gas plan.

Sage now says “I don’t think we — the FBI, the ATF — ever had any control over how this was going to end.  I I think the only control we truly had was when it was going to end.”

Levin, from ¨the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism¨ says “Koresh had his playbook already decided in advance, that he would destroy his followers rather than give up to the evil armies of the federal government.” Sage says, ¨We banked on the fact that parents would “move heaven and earth to get them to a position of safety. We were wrong.” Soundtrack is is a dramatic heartbeat. There is footage of the burning Mt. Carmel. Parsons said he thought “thank God those mothers  will bring their children out now.¨ And they didn’t.

Waco: The Rules of Engagement (watch it!) delves into questions of whether any feds fired on the Davidians who were fleeing. I am not comfortable saying anything definitive on that, but the FLIR footage with the bursts look much more like gunfire than the supposed sunlight. And it’s worth looking into that allegation, or at least mentioning its existence.

Ricks talks about the feds starting the fire rumor, or FBI shooting people. Sage says we didn’t do everything right, but “we didn’t set the fires, we did not murder anybody.” A news report from April 19 has Wolf Blitzer saying “all indications are that the fire was set from within, presumably by some of David Koresh’s followers.” (This kind of immediate trust in the feds´ spin was not unique to CNN. CBS was also very bad. Weekly news magazines were bad and went full-on apocalyptic cult. Newspapers like The New York Times were best.)

Sage says seven of the nine Davidian escapees had accelerants  on their clothing. Doyle doesn’t know who set it, if Davidians did “is it our fault for being bent on dying, or is it the FBI’s fault for taunting David?” Doyle might be an awful person, or an awful interview, or just was badly edited here. (Maybe all three.)

Parsons says Steve Shneider, Koresh´s number two, shot Koresh, them himself. Ricks: “The children themselves were mostly executed. They were either beaten to death, stabbed to death, or shot. David Koresh was never going to walk out of that place on our terms. It was doomed, from day one, that that place — which went by the name Ranch Apocalypse — was destined to end up in flames.”

A 1995 episode of Frontline quotes the county medical examiner, Dr. Nizam Peerwani, as saying, ¨Altogether, there were 20 people who died as a result of gunshot wounds that particular day. Some 27 additional bodies were buried deep within the bunker. These were co-mingled bodies and all of these were women and children. They were huddled together, some of them. They were covered with blankets. Some of them had face masks. And most of them had died as a result of smoke inhalation or suffocation, but there were at least three kids who had been shot to death and one was stabbed to death.¨

The covering of faces suggests a desire to have the children survive — albeit without the parents going outside and surrendering — and there is no mention there (or anywhere else I have seen) of children having been ¨beaten to death.¨

Things wrap up quickly in the episode. Various feds talk about the kids they wish they had rescued. Nothing about the trial of the surviving Davidians is worth commenting upon, but it is important to mention that the Waco paper was a Pulitzer finalist for their reporting.

But the takeaway of all this, besides sad feds is, says the narrator:

“In the aftermath of the tragedy, not another Waco became a rallying crime for the ATF. The agency improved intelligence gathering and reporting methods. And changed policy on who makes on the ground incident decisions. The FBI made changes as well — forming a crisis response group to ensure complete communication between its negotiators and tactical response teams.”

Then there’s that infuriating Janet Reno footage where she says she is taking responsibility. (Rhetorical responsibility and that is all.)

McVeigh is mentioned twice — first that he was in the crowds watching the stand-off, and was inspired to murder 168 people in Oklahoma City because of what he saw. At the end, the narration mentions that there are three monuments at the remains of Mt. Carmel today — one for the victims of the OKC bombing (nice gesture, but sort of annoying at the same time), one for the 76 Davidians, and, says the narrator ¨The third — the smallest stone of all — remembers the four ATF agents who perished on February 28, 1993.”

Davy Aguilera tears up and mentions each ATF agent by name. (Note: the hideous TV movie made about Koresh before the raid, whose screenwriter has entirely disowned it, was dedicated to those agents.) He says “…they were heroes. When I hear taps, or when I hear a bagpipes, I just break down. I’ll take this to my grave.”

We cut to footage of dejected ATF agents leaving the raid. Their hands are up, some are backing away. The final shot is of a petite female agent looking back at the camera.

In short — which this post wasn’t — this was an inexcusably light treatment of a horrible, controversial event in recent history. According to CNN’s narrative, the only thing that matters about Waco is how it affected law enforcement. From their sadness over the dead children, to the lessons learned in tactics, what matters is how they felt about the event.

The failure of the media at Waco — something I wrote a score of pages on for my thesis — was not entirely its own fault, in that they were simply not allowed to see and judge for themselves. But that’s not an excuse for their trusting, lapdog responses. In general, the press’ pathological inability to admit that they don’t know what happened often kills any chance at honest reporting — at Waco and at other big news events. They just can’t admit when they don’t know, and they rarely acknowledge that police and government officials — particularly ones who were one half of an event, and were rigidly controlling access to the other half — are not divorced, ivory-tower experts on the issue, but people with  bias and spin like anyone else.

As my esteemed older brother noted below, moderately famous actor and political wannabe Kal Penn — who should have stuck with being boring on House — recently tweeted his support of the New York City Police Department’s now-unconstitutional stop and frisk policy that disproportionately affects minorities. (People responding to Penn’s tweet seemed incredulous, at least. One suggested that Penn forgot the #snark hashtag. Penn responded with a slur against “activist judges” so clearly that’s a thing for Democrats to be mad about now.)

Joe forgot another important reason to loathe Penn — besides his inability to realize that brown people who aren’t famous actor friends of Obama may be getting the short end of the authority stick — his bullshit on the drug war. A man made famous for being the Cheech for a new generation also  acted the sniveling weasel apologist for Obama the drug war war hypocrite.

As Mike Riggs wrote at Reason.com last September:

Actor Kal Penn and President Barack Obama were both raked over the coals yesterday for their collaboration on a campaign video teasing Penn’s upcoming appearance at the Democratic National Convention. In that video, Penn reprised his role as Kumar from the Harold and Kumar movies, and takes a phone call from Obama while stoned, watching cartoons, and eating junkfood. The subtle implication is that marijuana users are easily swayed, lazy idiots.

Reason, the Marijuana Policy Project, LEAP, and several others criticized Penn and Obama for the video, as Obama has utterly failed to live up to his promise to deprioritze federal prosections of medical marijuana.

In an interview with Chris Moody of Yahoo! News, Penn said

“I think that the president’s been pretty consistent with that. He’s not in favor of legalization, we should be open about something like that. But what the president has done is take a really smart look at the Department of Justice and said, given the fact that the federal government has limited resources, we should be allocating them toward violent criminals and not towards non-violent criminals. We can see that not just in things like marijuana but in things like immigration reform where he’s going after and deporting violent criminals and making sure that if you’re a Dream Act eligible student that you know that you can apply for your deferred status. Wherever the federal government has an appropriate role, I think the president’s been very consistent in that. That’s something that I think folks should know.”

Penn should have stuck to the world of fiction, because his political views lie entirely in that realm as well.

At this point, it’s pretty clear that Jezebel exists to make Gawker look thoughtful, radical, and  passionate. Gawker slants tediously leftist, as do all of its writers (to my knowledge). But Hamilton Nolan, Max Read, and a few others have written quality, serious pieces on cops, the drug war, and war — many of which contain nothing in them that would alienate a libertarian.

Now, compare and contrast  a few Gawker posts with this latest Jezebel piece on the president, entitled “Check Out Obama’s Adorable Prom Pic.” It begins: “After last week’s hellish scandal week, President Barack Obama could use a little PR break.”

It continues:

What’s this? Photos of a young Barry at his prom have unearthed and Michelle was not his date? Is that infidelity? Does this mean impeachment? IS HE WEARING MARIJUANA AROUND HIS NECK? Nope, this photo is just sweet and innocent.

Oh Mr. President, look how happy you were at such a simple time when the greatest concern that could possibly bother you was the size of your fro, the breasts on your date and the awkwardness of the slow dance.

One of Barry’s high school friends, Kelli Allman (second to the left) just shared this gem from senior prom with Time, and it’s beyond adorable. It features Barry’s BFF, Greg Orme (the other dude in the photo) and Barry’s date that night, Megan Hughes. Apparently the double date duo sipped on some champagne before prom, did a Socialist ritual at prom (I kid, I kid) and attended an after-party like any other high school kids.

Allman also shared a photo of her yearbook, which has an even sweeter note from the future President. If you want to get the full experience, just let your eyes wonder at this picture. But if Barry’s handwriting is too handsome for you to handle, here’s what he says:

It continues, but I don’t care to.

Jesus Christ, editors; swoon over Ryan Gosling, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or any of the other currently-dreamy men who have made no choices that lead to the deaths of Pakistani children. This continuing obsession with the attractiveness of the president is completely appalling. It’s worse than the lowest type of gossip site, it’s worse than completely ignoring politics or serious issues, in the manner of Cosmopolitan. Yes, Jezebel is actually more embarrassing for women than Cosmo. It’s official. As a lady writer, I declare it so. Better to not talk about politics than to degrade good, old fashioned fawning in this manner. Teen idols don’t deserve to be grouped in with Barack Obama. The Jonas Brothers do not have predator drones. David Cassidy didn’t spy on the AP. Leif Garrett didn’t permit the DOJ to shut down medical marijuana clinics.

Jezebel is free to hire only leftist writers. They don’t even need to think about how all women are being portrayed when they write for a women’s blog — that’s too much to ask of anyone. They’re a subset of a subset, a moderate-left-blog for women’s interests. But it’s still troubling when there are multiple blogs on one platform, and it’s the women’s one with the most empty-headed, brood-hen bullshit. Just stop writing about politics entirely if you side-step their deadly seriousness.

And if you really support the president, explain why. Don’t write snotty posts with dog-whistles to the most inane, right-wing strawmen critiques so you can all have a hearty laugh about how wacky are those Republicans. Be honest and say the drug war, the wars, the spying is all worth it to you. Politics is awful, but Obama has the power of life and death, or freedom and imprisonment, over millions of people. That is fucking serious, do not write about it as if you were a 12-year-old.

With such posts — and such timing! —  you’re embarrassing the rest of the women, and the rest of the teen idols. Obama might have been a nice guy in private life, but he lost the privilege of being a morally neutral figure the moment he was elected, and he sure as hell lost the ability to be a sex symbol.