Robert Reich’s Unoriginal Smear against Ayn Rand—and Its Silver Lining

Former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich put out a recent hit piece on Ayn Rand. I take a look at it at The Objective Standard and find a smear with a silver lining.

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The Gallant Tuskegee Airmen

From the New York Daily News:

Floyd Carter Sr., one of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen, dedicated his remarkable life to serving his country and his city.

The decorated veteran of three wars and 27 years with the NYPD died Thursday at age 95, leaving a long legacy as a groundbreaking hero pilot and a city police detective.

 

I don’t recall if it was this gentleman or another member of that famed unit, but back in 2008 when I watched Madeline during the court-martial of Phillip’s killer, I took Madeline to the Air and Space Museum in Washington. There was a Tuskegee Airman signing a book on his exploits.

I introduced Madeline to him, telling her that this was a very brave gentleman who fought valiantly during the 2nd World War, and telling him that Madeline was a little girl who lost her dad in Iraq.

The gentleman stopped what he was doing and shook Madeline’s hand, telling her that she was very special. And then he stood back, stiffened up, and gave Madeline a hand salute.

Good stuff. These men were the real deal.

The Impertinent Quesion

Today’s Washington Posted reports on a Cub Scout who apparently asked a local politician some trenchant questions on gun control. The young scout’s troop leaders subsequently dismissed the boy from his den. I read the boy’s questions. They reflect a premise on guns that I do not accept. Nevertheless, it’s galling that the boy was dismissed from his den. If I were the politician, I’d be mortified that the boy received punishment for his questions. An advocate must be able to answer any question critical of his or her position, or not be an advocate.

Story: A Cub Scout pressed a lawmaker about gun control. Then his den kicked him out, his mother said.

The late unpleasant anthem bruhaha.

Here are my thoughts on the recent debate surrounding football players who kneel during the playing of the National Anthem.

My stepdaughter’s father was murdered in Iraq in 2005 by a soldier under his command. This soldier issued hundreds of threats behind his victim’s back, but no one who heard these threats had the presence to hold this soldier to account before his rage rose to murder. In 2008, a military court acquitted this soldier. Nothing rational explains it. Few would be bold enough to argue that the government didn’t prove its case. So as I and many others see it, the Army allowed an innocent man to be murdered and allowed a guilty man to go free.

My stepdaughter will soon be an adult. What if she decides because of the injustice dealt her late father that she wants to take a knee during the anthem? What if she decides that she does not wish to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because the “justice for all” part rings hollow for her? Apparently, some would tell my stepdaughter that while America is the land of the free, she’s not free to do that. Because…well, veterans.

I don’t agree with the football players who take a knee during the anthem. I believe they make a great many errors. But at least they point to dead bodies and say, “these people should not have died.”

The people upset about football players kneeling for the anthem—all they point to is a lack of sufficient piety. And in my view, when piety is demanded above all considerations—to include one’s judgement—it’s undeserved.

Moreover, I don’t think we should let Donald Trump twist the anthem from something most people celebrate into something we choke on. A self-confident nation ought not to wilt in the face of dissent. If the country deserves it, good people will honor it. And if some don’t, I doubt the matter requires presidential attention.

Justice for Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen

Eleven years ago, in the blinding dust of an Iraqi sandstorm, an American soldier placed a wire-activated landmine on the windowsill of Army Captain Phillip Esposito’s office. There, Esposito was playing a game of Risk with First Lieutenant Louis Allen. The soldier, believed by military prosecutors to be Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, then detonated the landmine, blasting hundreds of small ball bearings into the room where Esposito and Allen sat. Esposito died almost immediately, this despite medical care that included cracking open his chest and massaging his heart. Allen died a few hours later, conscious at first, but suffering wounds too grievous for any man to endure.

I’ve seen the photos of the crime scene and of the victims. These images lay bare the essence of violence. They lay bare the essence of negated humanity. They lay bare the essence of evil.

But for their deaths, Esposito and Allen would not receive justice. In 2008, an Army court-martial acquitted Staff Sergeant Martinez for his alleged role in the murders, ostensibly one vote short of the two-thirds majority necessary to convict.

Based upon my examination of the evidence in the case, I believe the military jury delivered the wrong verdict and let a guilty man go free. Moreover, I do not believe that the Army has engaged in the soul-searching necessary to properly address the circumstances that led to the murders, primarily, the lack of military discipline that allowed a recalcitrant soldier to issue hundreds of threats and gestures of contempt unchecked. In my view, had the Army acted like an army, Esposito and Allen would be alive today.

In the face of this failure of military justice, Esposito and Allen deserve a larger, moral justice. They deserve to have their story told, in appropriate detail, and with sufficient accuracy and objectivity that the good may learn from it and work to prevent future tragedies.

That is the long and short of it. Esposito and Allen were good men. Eleven years after their deaths, they deserve a justice yet undelivered.

Memorial Day for Phillip Esposito

This is what I would consider an appropriate Memorial Day tribute to Army Captain Phillip Esposito—perhaps the only appropriate Memorial Day tribute given the circumstances of Phillip’s unpunished murder and the subsequent acquittal of his accused killer. I would like the soldiers who voted to acquit Phillip’s accused murderer to come out and explain their votes. I would like these soldiers to step up and show exactly what their reasons were to find Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez “not guilty.”

Phillip-and-Madeline-New-Hampshire-Vacation

Phillip Esposito, with his daughter Madeline.

We know why the jurors in the OJ case voted to acquit OJ. We know why the jurors in the Casey Anthony case acquitted her. I can think of no infamous case that ended both in acquittal and where the reasons for the acquittal remained as opaque as they are with Phillip’s murder. The soldiers who voted to acquit Phillip’s murderer have hidden in silence. That’s cowardice. That’s disgusting.

Yes, if these soldiers who voted to acquit Phillip’s murderer attempted to explain themselves, I’d probably be able to demolish their arguments while standing on one foot. Yes, I would analyze their reasons and lay any flaws I saw bare. But also, I would point out where I might agree with them, or where I saw reasons for honest disagreement.

But at least, for the sake of the victims’ survivors—who should be of our utmost concern—there would come the clarity of knowing precisely why these soldiers saw fit to acquit Alberto Martinez of the crimes alleged to him. At least there would come the ability to say, “this is what happened, and this is why it is right, or wrong.”

If such honesty is too much to ask for, then these military jurors should never consider Memorial Day a day where they remember fallen patriots. They should just treat it as any other day—a good day to buy a cheap car or a new mattress, but not a day of honoring and respecting our dead. Dead soldiers like Phillip Esposito—a soldier who deserved far, far more justice than he ever got.

Five Great American Paintings (Part V: Freedom of Speech)

This installment discusses the last in the series of five paintings that I consider among American painter Norman Rockwell’s greatest artistic achievements.

Freedom of Speech (1943)

ROCKWELL_Norman_Freedom_of_Speech

In 1943, as America fought a desperate struggle against tyranny in a worldwide war, artist Norman Rockwell sought to depict the essence and value of America with his brush. Inspired by the “Four Freedoms” that Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined in his January 6, 1941 address to Congress, Rockwell produced four canvases, each reflecting an aspect of the freedom that America sought to define and defend. And while there is much to be desired in Roosevelt’s formulation of the “Four Freedoms” (I argue that Roosevelt is woefully imprecise, creating illegitimate entitlements instead of advancing a proper view of freedom of action), my focus here is not on Roosevelt’s errors, but instead upon what he got right and what inspired the most important work in Norman Rockwell’s entire artistic career. I hold that Rockwell’sFreedom of Speech is the single greatest painted expression of America’s single greatest constitutionally enumerated freedom: the freedom to speak one’s mind in peaceful assembly without fear of physical force or coercion.

In his painting, Rockwell depicts a standing man as he makes a statement at a public meeting. The man is adorned in the attire of an everyday workman; he wears a well-worn jacket and underneath it, a common plaid shirt. Hanging out of his jacket pocket is a folded document that is indicated in the foreground as some sort of report; the man’s coat is not designed for this kind of use and his public speaking is not part of his typical domain. Both of the man’s hands grasp the back of bench in front of him; these strong, muscular and tanned hands use the bench to give the man’s body support as he tilts his frame back ever so slightly to allow his voice greater projection. Nevertheless, the man does not appear to scream or yell; his mouth and eyes reveal not rage or bombast, but instead depict an earnest man speaking his heartfelt truth before his fellow citizens.

And his truth is unexpected. Others in the painting have to twist themselves to hear what the man has to say, one middle-aged man turning his head over his shoulder and tipping it back in order to see and hear the speaker, another wrinkled and white-haired man turning sideways as he looks at the speaker with earnest attentiveness, his own hands gripping his copy of the blue report in a gesture of passionate solidarity, while a boy, who is only partially revealed, simply turns his eyes sideways as the man speaks. No one interferes with the speaker or prevents his address; he is one individual, offering his ideas for all to hear and take as they see fit (as indicated by the subtle foreground depiction of the head of a man who does not turn around to listen). The freedom concretized in Rockwell’s work is nothing less that the subordination of physical might to individual right, of coercive force to reason and persuasion.

As today marks the seventh anniversary of the horror of the September 11th attacks, I cannot help but note that this freedom is under attack yet again. While I recognize that it has become passé in some circles to claim that America’s enemies hate America for its freedom, it is precisely America’s freedom that they hate. If the man depicted in Rockwell’s painting were to blaspheme Islam, if he were to utter a defense of why politics and faith are incompatible, if he were to say that religion is and must be strictly a matter of private conscience and that reason alone must guide man’s life, America’s enemies would have this man silenced and crushed, his mind utterly subordinated to the dictates of their mystic creed, his life but a plaything for their caprice.

To borrow from Jefferson, the proper response to those who design to shackle the mind of man in such a fashion is eternal hostility. In the era when this painting was created, such hostility was the given response, that is, until the advocates of tyranny were compelled to surrender and the peace that they had broken was restored.

Yet in the seven years after our own generation’s Pearl Harbor, we have not fared as well. Our nation fights what can only be described as a compassionate war and not a war of righteous self-defense. We sacrifice life and treasure to bring freedom to a foreign people who do not want it, and all the while ignoring the larger threat that the imposition of political Islam places upon our lives and security. Some now even claim that America itself is to blame for the atrocities committed that day and that if we only withdrew from the world, our enemies would not detest us.

In this light, can a 65 year-old painting help inspire us in our ongoing struggle today? Can it help set the terms of the debate? I believe that it can. Rockwell’s goal may have been to depict an American freedom, but I think he achieved far more through his creation. He created an artistic representation that shows the world a fundamental human truth; that man deserves freedom of conscience and expression and by implication, those who would deny it to him are mankind’s proper enemy.

And thus, the man in Rockwell’s painting could be any of us living today. Can we now afford to tolerate those who seek to silence us? Can we build a wall strong enough to repel them should they attempt to attack us with more ruthless weapons than box-cutters and jetliners? Can we live in a world where their might is considered right and where our rights are considered nothing? Our enemies have made their intentions crystalline clear. They seek our complete compliance with the terms of their creed, the reestablishment of their caliphate, and barring that, they seek our deaths. Their own lives are not even a value to them; they chant “God is Great” as they impale themselves in order to kill us. Can we afford to leave such an enemy unchecked?

I hold that we cannot. And thus, we must choose, deliberately and purposefully, to rededicate ourselves and our nation to the moral message of “Freedom of Speech.” May this artwork give you that inspiration. It has given it to me.

This article was originally published September 11, 2008.

Part I: The Scoutmaster
Part II:
The Homecoming Marine
Part III:
Lincoln the Railsplitter
Part IV:
The Problem We All Live With
Part V:
Freedom of Speech