Navel Gaze of the Week

On Immigration Policy

There was quite the hullabaloo this weekend over President Trump’s executive order barring travelers and refugees from a limited list of Muslim-majority countries. In addition the the innumerable social media meltdowns, there were protests across the country at airports and government centers.

Mixed in among all the knee-jerk outrage were some islands of thoughtful analysis (see David French at NRO, D.C. McAllister at The Federalist, and Nicki F at The Liberty Zone). I spent some small amount of time trying to calm people down myself. In doing so, I ran across a large number of folks who not only had not read the EO themselves (if you haven’t, see the first link in this post) but also exhibited an extraordinary degree of ignorance as to what it actually entailed.

I near as I could suss out, most folks immediate reaction was some combination of “Trump is Hitler!” and “Keeping out refugees is immoral!” As someone whose first instinct is to be an open borders advocate, I share the qualms of those that object to denying entry to refugees fleeing oppression and war. That said, I am not so blinded by my own preferred policy that I am ignorant of both the larger security concerns (I refer you to the problems in Europe with their refugee populations) or the longer-term economic factors (welfare states must have tight immigration policies).

My urge for calm was not helped by the inexcusable incompetence demonstrated by the White House when ICE began barring green card holders from reentry. Nor when they barred long-term allies from Iraq from entry (the inexcusable slowness of this latter group’s admission has been a stain on our national honor since former-President Bush’s administration).

But now that we’ve all had a few days to catch our breath, let’s discuss two fundamental questions: 1) Is immigration to the United States a right for all people or a privilege we extend to a select number? 2) Can we–should we–discriminate against immigrants on the basis of their religion?

1) I think most of us agree that there is no right to immigrate into any country, including ours. In spite of that (presumed) consensus, a great many folks appeared to be making exactly that argument at protests this last weekend. I’m inclined to suspect that much of the protestors’ anger was really caused by Mr. Trump’s occupancy of the White House, but I’ll stipulate that at least some folks were out there protesting because they really believed someone’s rights were being violated.

Still, if we agree that immigration is a privilege, then we must also agree on some restrictions–albeit preferably restrictions that are based on logic and long-term political policies. The Constitution places responsibility for setting immigration and naturalization policies with Congress alone. Congress, of course, has ceded considerable authority to the president, which is why immigration has become such a political football these last several years.

So if immigration is a privilege, there must logically be restrictions on who is admitted in order to administer that privilege, and it is Congress’s (abrogated) responsibility to determine those restrictions. What should those restrictions be? That leads us to:

2) Is religion a moral basis for restricting immigration? In light of our nation’s history of anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish immigration restrictions (not to mention the various racist restrictions against Eastern Europeans and Asians), the answer would seem to be no. But should it be in the case of Muslims? At the risk of being called an Islamophobe let me point out that the Islamic world has been in conflict with the West, on and off, since the 7th century. Some of our wars have been started by them, some by us (“us” in this case meaning Europe and–much later–the United States). Of late that conflict has been driven by two ideologies on the Islamic side and one on ours.

The Sunni Muslim world has been infected to an alarming degree by Wahhabism. (Our Saudi allies have some considerable measure of responsibility for that.) Wahhabism is a dark throwback to the very worst tenets of Islam, and motivates a considerable amount of what we call “Islamism” today.

The Shia Muslim world is led by Iran. Which means led by the ayatollahs. Which means led by a group of religious fanatics with an apocalyptic belief system. Moreover, modern Iran is heir to a long history of desire for regional hegemony. (I urge you to do some reading on Iran. It’s fascinating; the conflict for dominance of the Middle East between Iran and the West goes back a good 2,000 years.)

On our side of the equation is our alliance with Israel. Long time readers know that I am a fervent supporter of Israel (and yes, I’m familiar with the Liberty Incident). Despite that I am not ignorant that our alliance with and (occasionally wavering) support for Israel fuels a considerable amount our current conflict with the Islamic world. Yet I remain a supporter and believe that our national policy should always have us firmly in Israel’s corner.

(For the record, anyone who wants to use “But the Crusades!” as a justification for Islamic antipathy for the west is betraying a stunning lack of historical awareness. Whatever rallying point they may be for said antipathy today, the Crusades were a reaction to the Islamic conquest of Western lands both in the Levant and Western Europe. You don’t get to pretend away historical facts and be taken seriously in the same conversation.)

Bearing these three realities in mind, it would be the absolute height of willful idiocy not to consider a potential refugee’s religion when weighing their admission to the U.S. However I also believe that most Muslims are just folks, and that they want the same thing other immigrants want: a better life. So after sufficient vetting (whatever “sufficient” may actually mean) being a Muslim should not be a bar to immigration.

All that said, I believe that Congress needs to reassert itself as the arbiter of immigration policy. I also believe that President Trump’s ham-handed efforts at setting new immigration policy (restricting travel and immigration from current hotbeds of jihadism) was as useful as a submarine screen door. I was no more impressed by his EO (or the subsequent stupidity of barring green card holders from admission) than I was all the overwrought virtue signaling that went on this weekend. I am aware that the EO played well to his base. I am also aware that much of his base are taking counsel of their fears. But I am also aware that those fears have some legitimate roots, and screaming “racist” at every American that has been watching events unfold in Europe with a jaundiced eye won’t win Mr. Trump’s opponents any new allies.

It’s a thorny issue with no easy answers. Let’s all stop pretending otherwise.

Cigar of the Week

The Cigar of the Week is the is the Mark Twain Memoir.

Okay, let me confess up front that half the reason I ordered these was because I was rereading A Connecticut yankee in King Arthur’s Court when I ran across this item on Cigars International. Then I saw the price (see below) and could not pass them up.

That proved to be a wise choice, as they made for a nice bold smoke. The Memoirs measures in at 6.7″ and have a 58 ring size. Churchill would have approved, I think, as these sticks are “long and strong.” Featuring a Pennsylvania broadleaf maduro wrapper and Nicaraguan fillers, they have a nice spicy taste.

CI is running a special right now and you can pick up a box of 20 for just $59.99!

Order a box now and you can enjoy them this weekend along with the Book of the Week.

Book of the Week

The Book of the Week is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.

This is, hands down, my all time favorite book. Samuel Clemons is the American master novelist, so it should be no surprise to regular readers of this post that I’ve finally gotten around to adding one of his books.

While the book, written in 1889, suffers a bit from its 19th century perspective (readers’ tastes have changed somewhat in the intervening near 130 years) it holds up amazingly well. The protagonist, Hank Morgan (aka “The Boss”), is an idealized American: smart, capable, self-reliant, and a master con artist. His lady love, the Demoiselle Alisande a la Carteloise (aka “Sandy”) is one of his two most ardent supporters, and inspires him to even greater achievement than he would have otherwise attended to. Twain was a master satirist and Connecticut Yankee certainly pokes fun at both the great romances of the day and America of the gilded age.

The only parts of the book that drag a bit (for me) are the direct quotations from Thomas Mallory’s Le More d’Arthur and Twain’s occasional concentration on Sandy’s incessant ramblings. That aside, it is a great story and one I have read many times.

This is one of those books worth the investment in a hard back edition (Amazon.com).

Highly recommended.

The Week in Review

Happy Lunar New Year!

Mr. Trump signed an executive order suspending visas for travelers from seven countries with a history of terrorism. The left, anti-Trump activists, and some civil rights groups have decried the measure. While I see both sides of the argument, I tend to be an open borders guy. That said, I am not prepared to stipulate that the USA has a special responsibility to take in refugees when such may be inimical to our interests.

Earlier in the week, in his first substantive foreign policy action, Mr. Trump directed the establishment of “safe zones” for refugees in Syria.

The White House has instituted guidance suspending most communication from executive departments to the public and Congress until they can get messaging unified. Many are upset about this. How dare the chief executive demand his subordinates get on board with his policies!

The president announced on Sunday he’ll begin renegotiating NAFTA (along with border security) Being a free trade guy, I can’t say I’m wishing him success on scaling back the existing agreement. Getting right to work, the president signed a series of executive orders Monday morning: withdrawing from the TPP, ordering a hiring freeze, and restricting federal monies from supporting abortion overseas. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order directing the border wall begin construction. Shortly thereafter, Press Secretary Spicer announced an intent to fund the wall with a 20% tariff. I’m sure that will work out well.

Not sure whether this means Mr. Trump will keep his promise to move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem or not. Regular readers know I’m entirely in favor of the move, even though I’m well aware that the Arab world will go nuts.

On Tuesday, President Trump threatened to intervene in Chicago if the level of violence isn’t dealt with. I’m uncertain which section in Article 2 grants him such authority.

Betsy DeVos went before the relevant Senate committee. Looks like they are postponing their vote pending completion of her ethics investigation.

Mike Pompeo has been confirmed as DCI. Mr. Rex Tillerson has been approved by the committee and his name sent to the floor for a vote (same source).

Displaying a bit of tone deafness, President Trump gave a somewhat self-congratulatory speech in front of the memorial wall at Langley. Certainly this sort of thing will aid the press at large as they continue their very public conflict with the new president. (See, e.g. this piece from WaPo.)

Lot of protests around inauguration time. The big one was the Women’s March in DC. I’m not sure what the marches were supposed to accomplish.* Maybe they thought Mr. Trump would see them and say “Oh, well then. I’m out,” and Mr. Pence would be sworn in? I hear some washed up singer from the eighties announced she had thought about “blowing up the White House.”

At a women’s march in Alberta on Sunday, Canadian Dion Bews (who was there to participate) punched a female Rebel TV reporter in the face. A man marching for women’s rights punched a woman in the face at the march. Let that sink in.

A couple real tragedies this week. In San Antonio, six people were killed when two bystanders tried to interfere with a robbery. And here in Las Vegas’s neighboring city of Henderson, a Jared’s jewelry worker was shot and killed by a security guard trying to stop another robbery.

A paragon of liberal tolerance got herself and her husband booted from a Baltimore-Seattle flight last Saturday after relentlessly badgering the man next to her for voting for Mr. Trump.

There is a report that a gang rape was live streamed on Facebook in Sweden. Two men were caught and face prosecution. I’m past wondering what drives animals to rape, torture, and murder—some “men” are just evil. But I can’t quite wrap my head around how stupid one has to be to broadcast himself in action.

Looks like “net neutrality” may be due for another look as the Republicans now dominate the FCC.

Over in the UK, Parliament must vote on whether or not to go along with the popular referendum on Brexit. More detail here.

Suicide bombers (a woman and two girls) in Nigeria detonated suicide vests; the woman was carrying a child strapped to her back. 6 dead. I don’t even have words for this.

At least five people were killed in a terrorist attack in Mogadishu. The al Qaeda-linked terror group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the truck bomb and follow-on attack. 28 dead.

*Having said that, I sincerely hope that this is the presidency that finally motivates Congress to reassert itself as the preeminent branch of government. The imperial presidency has always scared the crap out of me, and I’d really like to see it scaled back. Waaaay the hell back.

Whiskey of the Week

The Whiskey of the Week is Old Forrester Straight Kentucky Bourbon.

Old Forester is a sweet bourbon whiskey manufactured by Brown-Forman Distillers, and is the oldest bourbon whiskey available on the market (approximately 146 years as of 2017). Originally made by George Garvin Brown, his descendants still manage the company. (Now that is a family pride!) Interesting historical note: Old Forester was the first American whiskey sold in sealed bottles.

Old Forester Signature–the sample I used for this post–is 100 proof (50% alcohol by volume). There are both 86, 95 and 115 proof versions available (the last being their new 1920 Prohibition Style), but I have yet to try them.

There is a pretty solid review of this bourbon here. It won’t replace my favorite sour mash anytime soon, but it’s well worth investing a in a bottle for sipping’ purposes.

Old Forester Signature sells for ~$23 per fifth.

Highly recommended.

 

Navel Gaze of the Week

Does anyone have a right to health care?

There is (and has been for some time) a debate centering on the notion that health care is a human right. But is it? When we think of “human rights,” most of us, I believe, agree that they include the right to live free from external oppression and be safe in our possessions (e.g. Locke’s “life, liberty, and property”–with the last amended by the American founders as “the pursuit of happiness”). However there are a fair number of folks that would expand that list to include (or perhaps to more properly mean) a right to a basic modicum of security from want.

What does that mean? As I understand it, such an interpretation of human rights would include the right to basic shelter, sufficient food, education for one’s children, and access to health care. As a classical liberal, I would always point out that the general difference between the first interpretation and the second is this: one basically consists of the right to be left alone; the second requires access to material goods and/or services. For the purpose of the argument I am about to make, I ask you to so stipulate (even if you fundamentally disagree), if only for the duration of this opinion piece.

With that understood, then the necessary question is this: to what degree can we as a society compel one another to provide those goods and/or services that must be furnished in order to supply everyone with those human rights? Setting aside the typical straw man of slavery (that we would be conscripting the unwilling labor of the farmer, the doctor, &tc.), goods and services must be provided out of the labor and property of someone. The vehicle by which we are likely to do so is taxation. In other words, the seizure of wealth from one element of the populace in order to purchase said goods and/or services from a provider and furnish them to another segment of the population.

In terms of health care, this might be achieved either through direct contract (e.g. a single-payer health insurance program) or government owned and operated systems (e.g. socialized medicine or something akin to the UK’s National Health Service).

No matter the method, in order to satisfy this view of human rights, we must compel one citizen to pay for the maintenance of another.

But do we have the right to do so? If you are a collectivist of any stripe (whether a progressive, a communist, a socialist, &tc.) you’re answer is likely yes. If you are an individualist (a classical liberal, a libertarian, a conservative, an anarcho-capitalist, &tc.) the answer is likely no. In either case the argument is a philosophical one, and is going to be grounded in your core values. Arguments about constitutionalism are not going to matter as much as your driving principles.

I have heard many stories about individuals who have benefited from the coverage they were able to obtain due to Obamacare. Citizens of the UK often boast about their NHS. I, in fact, have a friend who has directly benefited from Obamacare (he had previously been unable to purchase health insurance). So I would have to be some kind of heartless bastard to tell him that he is receiving a benefit that he shouldn’t and then work to take it away from him, wouldn’t I? To take it away from him and everyone like him.

Well, yes. I would have to be exactly that. On the other hand, I would argue that he never had a right to my property to begin with. So while it might be heartless to tell him he can’t have it anymore, I am prepared to say exactly that. Because I am a heartless bastard–at least where it comes to being compelled to provide for someone else.

Because his need does not equate to my obligation.

I have a duty to my spouse. I have a duty to my children. I have a duty to provide for anyone that I have willing obliged myself to. I have no such duty toward anyone else. For all others my single obligation is to leave you alone.

Having said that, I do believe we can make things a little easier for people by doing the following:

1)  I think we could establish a government-guaranteed a health insurance system that would offer policies exclusively to those that have a pre-existing condition and who cannot otherwise obtain it. (Mandating that private insurance companies do so guarantees a future death spiral unless we obligate everyone to buy policies they neither need nor want–and how well has that worked out so far?) These policies will be more expensive than the ones people without a pre-existing condition may purchase, but at least health insurance would be available to them.

2) I think we should remove the federal block on selling insurance policies across state lines. Few people realize how many things their policies cover that they neither need nor want because the several states have mandated minimums of coverage in order to spread out costs from those that need various services to those that don’t. For example, a single man in the state of Nevada cannot buy a policy that does not cover prenatal care.

3) I think we could all be a little more generous when it comes to charitable donations (and by “we” I am including myself).

4) Even though it grates hard against my black heart, I would personally be willing to entertain the idea of full medical coverage for children, if such coverage expired at age 18 (or earlier in those rare cases of self-emancipation), and only if their parents could prove an inability to do so. (That is a hard sell for me, incidentally, because I believe it is flagrantly unconstitutional.*)

What I will not agree to is supporting a third party with my tax dollars. I will in fact oppose any such policy stridently and at every turn. If others force such a system of obligation down my throat (as happened with the ACA), I will work to tear it out root and branch at every opportunity. Yes, I am a heartless bastard. But if you are not my wife, if you are not my child, then I don’t owe you much of anything.

Because health care is not a human right.

Comments are open for seven days following publication.

*I try to avoid too many arguments about what is and is not constitutional, as it is my opinion constitutionalism as  governing principle was killed by the US Supreme Court back in the 1930s. Since then we have had a policy of the Constitution meaning whatever the high priests of the judiciary want it to mean in accordance with their preferred political ideologies.

Cigar of the Week

The Cigar of the Week is the Gurkha Bounty Hunter.

The Gurkha Bounty Hunter hails from the Dominican Republic, features a Cameroon wrapper, and measures 6″ with a 52 ring size.

Regular readers know that I’m a fan of Gurkhas (although not as much as I am of Toranos). I have only one (mild) complaint about these: as you get closer to the ring, the stick may start to crack. A quick lick should take care of it, but these are definitely not sticks for the open road.

On the plus side, however, I’ve always had a smooth draw and an even burn with them.

If you’re looking for something mild to try this week, you can pick up a bundle of 12 from Thompson for ~$55. A little on the high side (~$4.60 per stick), but worth the expense.

Recommended.

Book of the Week

This week’s recommendation is Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

Narrated in the 1st person by Johnny Rico, a former denizen of Buenos Aires, Starship Troopers is one of the best novelized examinations of leadership available on the market. Put Paul Verhoeven’s campy (but fun) satire about a fascist future out of your mind – Mr. Heinlein’s book share’s few similarities with the film.

In an unspecified future era, mankind finds itself at war (The Bug War) against an enemy as ruthless as it is alien. Johnny Rico enlists in the Mobile Infantry, and we follow him through basic and advanced training, his first combat deployment, officer candidate school, and into commissioned leadership. Mr. Heinlein’s own military experience obviously influenced his writing in this novel.

There’s a reason this book is perennially on the Army Chief of Staff’s reading list. More important than an implied advocation for a less hoplophobic society, or its message about earning citizenship through service, Starship Troopers is a book about the responsibilities of leaders.

Aside from that, it’s just a really fun book. Some of Mr. Heinlein’s novels can be a bit challenging, but this one is straight up military sci-fi adventure. If that’s your thing (or you want something a little different from your usual), this is a book worth checking out.

Currently available on Amazon for as little as $1.33 (used) or $9.99 on Kindle.

Highly recommended.

The Week in Review

President* Trump and Vice President Pence were sworn into office. Our long national nightmare is over…and our new national nightmare has begun. (Let’s face it, while Mr. Trump is totally unfit to be president, so was Mr. Obama). Enjoying an inauguration bounce, President Trump had a first day job approval rating of 56%. I’m guessing the poll did not sample any of the rioters gracing the nation’s capitol this weekend (more on that below).

Evidently, one of the new president’s first acts was to declare a national day of patriotism. (Not sure I needed the direction, but politicians are gonna politic, right?)

While Mr. Trump was visiting the Hill, Congresswoman Pelosi took the opportunity to make an ass of herself, refusing to accept the pen that the president used to sign HHS nominee Price’s nomination with (same link as above). He also signed his first executive order, granting leeway to federal agencies to grant a variety of ACA waivers—the first step in eliminating Obamacare.

Of course, lots of folks remain unhappy that Mr. Trump won the election. I don’t blame them; I remember how I felt in 1992, 1996, 2004, and 2008. Of course, I never rioted in the streets or set anything on fire while “peacefully” protesting, so I guess I can’t really relate. In fairness, many protesters didn’t bring chaos to the streets. Here in Las Vegas, for instance, the anti-Trump crowd was entirely peaceful. And of course, there the folks overseas who aren’t exactly thrilled about things.

Secretary Mattis was confirmed by the Senate for Department of Defense just two hours after the inauguration.

Secretary Kelly was confirmed for Department of Homeland Security shortly thereafter. (Should I point out again how much I despise even the idea of this department? For me, it’s on the list of things that should go, right along with Education, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services…)

Mr. Trump’s staff has been busy revamping whitehouse.gov. Pshaw! If he wanted to impress me, he would have named a new supreme court justice.

The new administration has been kicking around the idea of moving the press briefing room. The press is not taking the idea well. What are the odds it’s really because the incoming administration wants the swimming pool back?

An unnamed candidate for White House press secretary floated the idea of testing the White House press corps for drugs. These guys really don’t like the press.

Mr. Trump is now promising health insurance for “everybody.” And he’s promising to coerce pharmaceutical companies to “negotiate” with the government on pricing. Meanwhile, Democrats are rallying across the country to save and/or expand Obamacare. Look, I get it. Prices for health insurance (vice health care) are nuts. But do you know why? Because of 80 years of government mucking about with it. Which has led to price increases for actual health care as well. And people believe more interference will make things better?

Mr. Obama saw fit to commute the traitor Chelsea Manning’s sentence earlier this week. Manning had a bit less than 29 years remaining on her sentence. Now she’ll be out by late May. Let’s not forget the “what” and the “why” of what Manning did. Honestly, I surprised the former president didn’t pardon the traitor Snowden, too. Or the accused deserter Bergdahl. Both Snowden and Manning committed treason, and Bergdahl deserted to the enemy, and I will never pretend otherwise.

The latest in the ongoing series of political hit pieces comes from the New York Times. In it, they claim that Mr. Perry was surprised to learn that DoE oversaw our nuclear storage and security programs. New York Magazine attempted some moderation, but even they couldn’t help themselves and slipped in a jab in the last paragraph, asserting without evidence that Mr. Perry is unqualified for the post. It seems the only one of President Trump’s nominees that hasn’t been labeled as “unqualified” is Secretary Mattis (perhaps because such a claim would be ridiculous on its face).

There was a bit of traffic on social media last night, as a video of Ricard Spencer (the white separatist) getting sucker punched in the middle of an interview began to circulate. I say here what I said on Twitter:

I get folks enjoying seeing Richard Spencer get hit, but it was a sucker punch. Now, if he’d been bitch-slapped, *that* would’ve been funny. But that might have required facing him like a man, instead of sneaking up on the guy and then running away like a coward. And, of course, just letting the asshat say his piece was out of the question. ‘Cause that whole “free speech” thing is so passé. So do keep pushing the violence leftists. I’m sure that’ll work out well for everybody.

Both NASA and NOAA are claiming that 2016 was the hottest year on record, and for the third year in a row. I wish that were true. Or hope that it’s true. I didn’t move to Vegas because I enjoy the cold weather, after all. I’m doing my part—I drive an SUV, but I need everyone else to get busy helping warm up this damned ice cube we’re living on. My personal goal is to achieve Jurassic age temperatures, so I can wear shorts year ’round.

The Paris Mideast Peace Conference concluded with the usual calls for two states and an end to violence. In other words, they once again accomplished nothing. And never will, until the civilized nations of the world put their weight behind Israel. In related news, France has come out against the US moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Screw the French. In my view, the move is long overdue.

Finally, a somber note. Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, died this week. Another true American hero, lost.

*sigh* It’s gonna be at least four years before I get to use the term “PEON” again.

Early release for Blood Debt!

Do you enjoy tales of high adventure and derring do? Stories about hard men and strong women? Well, have I got news for you!

Blood Debt: A Modern American Romance is now available on Amazon.com.

From the book description:

Mackenzie Boru earned the nickname Reaper from his colleagues in black ops due to his violent tactics and insane bravery. But when the US government no longer has need of his services, he retires the Reaper—or so he thinks.

Mac is now in the middle of his fallback plan. He’s gotten a PhD in history and has moved to Las Vegas for the climate and the female companionship. But then he finds a bit more than he bargained for.

Her name is Danni Greenbow, and she’s drop-dead gorgeous. She is a brilliant and outspoken software engineer. She also happens to be a transgender woman. Mac has had little experience with the types of challenges she has faced in her life, but he decides he wants to be there for every new one that arises.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Danni is kidnapped by los Toros del Diablo, a motorcycle gang that operates gunrunning and narcotics enterprises all over the Southwest. To find his girlfriend, Mac will have to become the Reaper once again, but will his killer instincts and commando skills be enough to bring Danni back alive?

The paperback is available now, and ebook will be released on Monday. If you purchase the paperback, and want the Kindle version as well, I’ve set it up so that the ebook will only cost you $0.99.

If you’re tempted, but not sure yet? Well I’ve posted the first five chapters as a free download here.

Read. Enjoy. And do, please, leave a review.