18 August 2010

Regulation Begets More Regulation

My jaw dropped when I read the second paragraph of a Wall Street Journal article today. The story paraphrased Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s pitch for the government to guarantee home mortgages: “The private sector’s ‘full retreat’ from the mortgage market over the past three years provides a ‘compelling illustration’ of what would happen without some government role, [Geithner] said.”[Note 1, emphasis mine.]

The collapse of the housing market illustrates what would happen without government involvement? How can anyone read this with a straight face?

The government caused the housing crisis. As Yaron Brook put it, “For decades, Washington promoted homeownership by people who couldn’t afford it; think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Community Reinvestment Act, tax incentives to buy homes, housing subsidies for the needy, among other programs.”[Note 2.]

It is true that Geithner grudgingly admitted in the press conference that “alongside broader failures,” (which he leaves unnamed), the government sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac played a part in the crisis by creating a “race to the bottom” with lax underwriting standards. But Geithner cannot even imagine a market that is not controlled by the government. With the most disgusting Obama-esque pretense of actually considering an iota of freedom, Geithner dismisses the idea that “[s]ome suggest that, as a government, we have provided too much support for housing,” with the bold executive decision, “It’s safe to say there’s no clear consensus yet on how best to design a new system.”[Note 3.]

Upon which Tim Geithner assumed that Tim Geithner is the best guy to design a new system.


1. “Geithner Makes Case for U.S. Role in Mortgages,” Wall Street Journal, 18 Aug 2010, p. A6.

2. Yaron Brook, “Atlas Shrugged and the Housing Crisis that Government Built,” published in Fusion Magazine, Vol. 4, Issue 8, March 2009, http://www.aynrand.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=24013.

3. “Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner Opening Remarks at the Conference on the Future of Housing Finance - As Prepared for Delivery,” US Treasury Department, 17 Aug 2010, http://www.ustreas.gov/press/releases/tg830.htm.

15 August 2010

The Carter-Bush-Obama Mosque

On Friday, President Obama finally threw his explicit support behind the building of the mosque at Ground Zero. Echoing George Bush and virtually every conservative and “liberal” politician, Mr. Obama reiterated the standard line: “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam––it’s a gross distortion of Islam.”

As one might expect, Obama couched this craven surrender in terms of defending freedom. He even had the gall to quote Thomas Jefferson and to invoke to old canard that the Founders were “deeply religious.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared, “This proposed mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan is as important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime, and I applaud President Obama’s clarion defense of the freedom of religion tonight”[1]––as if the Founders would have considered it an expression of “freedom of religion” to murder thousands of innocent workers, use airplanes to knock down their institutions of commerce and free trade, and install a house of worship on the blood-soaked holy site as a symbol of the conqueror stepping on the neck of the vanquished.

Incredibly, on top of it all, in a contrivance that would have seemed a gross exaggeration if it had appeared in a novel or movie, the occasion upon which the President chose to make this announcement was at the White House Iftar Dinner. The White House Iftar Dinner is, of course, part of the Executive Branch’s official promotion of the “Holy Month of Ramadan” in order to “reflect on the principles of a faith that is practiced by more than a billion women and men worldwide.”[2] In the Orwellian fantasy land of current political discourse (and the sheeplike acceptance of an unthinking public), this is what passes for “as important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime.” Declared the President:

Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties and seders and Diwali celebrations. And these events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs.[3] [Emphasis mine.]

No, Mr. President, the fact that these events (apart from Christmas, which has happily substituted its religious meaning for a commercial one) occur in the White House at all indicates how far the federal government has become completely unmoored from its founding principles. The government has no business propping up any religion. To do so destroys, not reinforces, the wall of separation between church and state. And it is utterly obscene for the federal government to be acting in its official capacity to promote a religion that is openly an enemy of freedom, and to do so in the name of freedom.

Religious freedom is a subset of freedom in general––and freedom means one and only one fundamental thing: securing individual rights. A man certainly has the right to believe anything he wishes (including medieval superstitions), and he may act upon those beliefs as long as his actions harm no one else. A man does not have the right––nor do a billion men[4] have the right––to destroy a free country with a succession of murderous attacks and legal maneuvers.


I have been extremely troubled by the controversy surrounding the Ground Zero mosque. It is obviously an outrageous affront to America, to freedom, and to civilization. But what should the America government do about it now? Countless opportunities to do the right thing have gone by. (This is why I dubbed it the “Carter-Bush-Obama mosque.” The prospect of building a holy shrine of Islam’s victory over America in Manhattan is possible only after a generations-long chain of capitulations by our morally-bankrupt culture. Perhaps I should include Eisenhower in the title as well; he should have opposed the outrageous nationalization of Western property during the Suez crisis. But if Jimmy Carter had responded with immediate overwhelming force to the American embassy takeover by soldiers of the Islamist Revolution, there would have been no fatwa against Salman Rushdie a decade later; if George H. W. Bush had properly recognized the fatwa as an act of war and a mortal threat to all civilization, there would have been no September 11 atrocity; and if George W. Bush had not merely given lip service to destroying the nations that harbor terrorists and if Barack Obama were not a thorough multiculturalist, we would not now be threatened by Islamic totalitarianism and be on the doorstep of Sharia law in the United States. Sure, it sounds like a crazy and unreal exaggeration to say that Sharia law could take hold here––but then again, I used to think it impossible that the American government would ever take over car companies and the health care industry.)

The trouble I have with the Ground Zero mosque controversy is that because the United States government has placated the enemy for so long, it is difficult to sort out exactly what should be done by the government in this instance. It goes without saying that every private citizen and politician––every editorial, radio program, television commentary, and blog––should denounce the mosque from the rooftops in the most explicit terms. It is an outrage and a monstrosity. But if government force is used to block the mosque, exactly what form should that take? Should American soldiers storm the mosque after it is built? Should the CIA or FBI take it down covertly? Should New York City policemen padlock the door? Should bureaucrats wrap up the project in red tape and deny approval? On its face, every one of these seems wrong; American soldiers (or better yet, American aircraft) should be destroying the root of Islamic totalitarianism in Tehran before it does so in New York City.

Many excellent essays have been written on this topic by Ed Cline, Diana Hsieh, Amy Peikoff, Paul Hsieh, and others. I find myself in the most unusual of circumstances––seeing both sides of their arguments and having trouble identifying the correct application of principles. The problem amounts to this: Because of the past and present failings of the federal government, the only immediate way to stop or eliminate the Ground Zero mosque is to use government force in an abusive, non-objective fashion. The government ought to have eliminated the threat generations ago. But it didn’t. So, the only (apparent) solution remaining is to exert government force that I would ordinarily regard as violating rights. (By “ordinarily,” I mean outside of a declared state of war.) Naturally, every philosophical alarm bell in my head goes off at the prospect of such a compromise; it seems to contradict a principled defense of freedom and to open the door to untold future abuses of power. I habitually argue against this sort of support for the “lesser of two evils” because it concedes the basic premises of the argument to the irrational.

A comment in a private email list has put a fact in place to help me through the dilemma. Reflecting my own concerns, one post expressed the reasonable worry that the use of government measures that are either outside the law or exploit existing bad laws (such as non-objective regulatory or zoning laws) creates a dangerous precedent that threatens the rule of law itself. In reply, Ed Mazlish made an excellent point: The government has already assumed this power. It cannot be a precedent to block the building of a mosque with zoning laws when New York City already routinely blocks other types of building, “as evidenced by the fact that Walmart is not allowed to open any store in any of the 5 boroughs despite repeated attempts and petitions for permission. If the government has already arrogated to itself the power to ban Walmart from NYC, then the horse is completely out of the barn and allowing this mosque to be built does nothing to protect private property rights from arbitrary zoning powers.”[5]

This is a crucially important observation. If individual rights were being upheld in a reasonably consistent fashion in America, one might argue that the breach constituted by blocking the building of the mosque would threaten the rule of law itself. (Such a breach still might not compare to the threat of Islam, but the argument could be made.) However, this is not a case of “the cure being worse than the disease.” We already have the disease. The government seems to recognize no restraint on its powers to regulate and control our lives. Furthermore, in very broad and fundamental terms, if our government were the sort that consistently secured individual rights domestically, it would likely also have had the proper foreign policy, which would have eliminated this controversy altogether.

In light of this, my dilemma can be expressed more clearly: Given the past and present failings of the federal government, should it now apply an incremental evil of its own to stop a monstrous, civilization-threatening evil? In those terms, the answer in the affirmative is obvious.


The tenets of Islam are not secrets for those who care (or dare) to look, but it is easy to obscure and dismiss the nature of those ideas, especially when our morally bankrupt culture wants to pretend there is no problem.

In Modern Times, historian Paul Johnson cited a remarkably candid passage that rings true today. It is from a secret briefing issued by Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, in April of 1940, four days before the Nazis invaded Norway:

Up to now we have succeeded in leaving the enemy in the dark concerning Germany’s real goals, just as before 1932 our domestic foes never saw where we were going of that our oath of legality was just a trick. We wanted to come to power legally, but we did not want to use power legally . . . . They could have suppressed us. They could have arrested a couple of us in 1925 and that would have been that, the end. No, they let us through the danger zone. That’s exactly how it was in foreign policy too . . . . In 1933 a French premier ought to have said (and if I had been the French premier I would have said it): ‘The new Reich Chancellor is the man who wrote Mein Kampf, which says this and that. This man cannot be tolerated in our vicinity. Either he disappears or we march!’ But they didn’t do it. They left us alone and let us slip through the risky zone, and we were able to sail around all dangerous reefs. And when we were done, and well armed, better than they, then they started the war![6] [Emphasis in the original.]

The apparent strategy of the West is to keep mouthing the words “religion of peace” over and over until it somehow becomes true . . . or at least until the “religion of peace” silences us once and for all. Assuming civilization survives, we will someday look back at the words of President Bush, President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg, and the many other politicians and intellectuals who apologized for Islamic totalitarianism, and marvel at the incredible moral cowardice, deceit, and naivete they exhibited.

1. “Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site,” New York TImes, 13 Aug 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/14/us/politics/14obama.html?hp.

2. Quote from Farah Anwar Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities, in “Remarks at the Annual State Department Iftaar Dinner,” US Department of State, http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/09/129232.htm.

3. “President Obama’s Iftar Remarks,” distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, US Department of State, http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2010/August/20100813211535yggep0.050237.html.

4. From Mr. Obama’s remarks: “To you, to Muslim Americans across our country, and to more than one billion Muslims around the world, I extend my best wishes on this holy month. Ramadan Kareem.”

5. I am grateful to Mr. Mazlish for permitting me to quote him.

6. Paul Johnson, Modern Times (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.,1983), p. 341.