The news cycle vs. current events

The other day, while badgering my fellow Notewriters to blog more often, I mentioned that current events are different from the news cycle, and are still important to dissect and blog about. This distinction between the news cycle and current events was sparked by economist Arnold Kling’s recent post on where he gets the news (found in one of last week’s Nightcaps). Basically, the news cycle is terrible. I rarely pay any attention to it. CNN, a left-of-center media outlet that almost everybody has heard of, has on its front page today (the wee morning hours of 4-23-17) a great example of the news cycle:

  • Kellyanne Conway to Dana Bash: OK, you went there
  • Conway says asking about her husband’s anti-Trump tweets is a ‘double standard’
  • Analysis: Trump’s score-settling creates jarring contrast
  • WSJ: Trump to ask North Korea to dismantle nuclear arsenal before talking sanctions relief
  • Opinion: Macron’s bromance with Trump will come at a price
  • Biographer: Trump has lied since youth
  • Melania Trump plans state dinner on her own
  • Stelter: One Trump lie is crystal clear

You get the idea, and remember that CNN is a well-established, long-running media outlet. Other media outlets that focus on the news cycle are just as bad, if not worse (at least CNN pretends, most of the time, to wrap its clear bias in a cloth of objectivity). This is a far cry from the concept of “current events.” Current events, in my view, are arguments about ideas, events, or even people that take place between at least two sides in specific time frame. Most of the time, “current events” involve using events (usually) or people (rarely) to defend or attack an idea. You see the difference? Have a better definition?

The news cycle is largely garbage, but it can still be useful, especially for international news. I never visit RealClearPolitics, for example, because it focuses on the news cycle, but I stop by RealClearWorld, which usually conveys the news cycles of other countries, once or twice a day. Even though I’m consuming a news cycle, I’m still learning something because it’s a news cycle about a place very different from my own.

Five or ten years from now, the bullet points from CNN will be useless and forgotten, but the arguments put forth into the stream of current events will be useful and maybe even prized. What baffles me is that the news cycle, while almost universally loathed, is far more popular in terms of consumption than current events. Doesn’t everybody know how to use Google by now?

Guantanamo: A Conservative Moral Blind Spot

A current Guantanamo detainee, Mohamedou Slahi, just published a book about his ordeal. The book is redacted of course but it still tells an arresting story.

M. Slahi was captured in 2000. He has been held in detention, mostly at Guantanamo prison since 2002 but in other places too . The motive was that he supposedly helped recruit three of the 9/11 hijackers and that he was involved in other terror plots in the US and Canada (unidentified plots.).

According to CNN:

Slahi admits to traveling to Afghanistan to fight in the early 1990s, when the US. was supporting the mujahedin in their fight against the Soviet Union. He pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in 1991 but claims he broke ties with the group shortly after.

He was in fact never convicted. He was not even formally charged with anything. Slahi has spent 13 years in custody, most of his young adulthood. If he is indeed a terrorist, I say, Bravo and let’s keep him there until the current conflict between violent jihadists and the US comes to an end. Terror jihadists can’t plant bombs in hotels while they are in Guantanamo. And, by the way, I am not squeamish about what those who protect us must do to people we suspect of having information important to our safety. I sometimes even deplore that we do to them is not imaginative enough. And, I think that the recent allegations to the effect that torture produces nothing of interest are absurd on their face.

But what if the guy is an innocent shepherd, or fisherman, or traveling salesman found in the wrong place? What if he is a victim of a vendetta by the corrupt police of his own country who delivered him over? What if he was simply sold to our intelligence services? What if, in short, he is has no more been involved in terrorism than I have? The question arises in Slahi’s case because the authorities had thirteen years to produce enough information, from him and from others, to charge him. They can’t even give good reasons why they think he is a terrorist in some way, shape or form. It shouldn’t be that hard. If he so much as lend his cellphone to a terrorist I am for giving him the longest sentence available. or simply to keep him until the end of hostilities (perhaps one century).

And if having fought in Afghanistan and having pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda at some point are his crimes, charge him, try him promptly even by a military commission, or declare formally, publicly that he is a prisoner not protected by the Geneva Conventions, because he was caught engaged in hostile action against the US while out of uniform and fighting for no constituted government. How difficult can this be?

I am concerned, because, as a libertarian conservative, I am quite certain that any government bureaucracy will usually cover its ass in preference to doing the morally right thing. (The American Revolution was largely fought against precisely this kind of abuse.) Is it possible that the Pentagon or some other government agency wants to keep this man imprisoned in order to hide their mistakes of thirteen years ago? I believe that to ask the question is to answer it.

This kind of issue is becoming more pressing instead of vanishing little by little because it looks like 9/11 what just the opening course. It looks like we are in this struggle against violent jihadism for the long run. Again, I am not proposing we go soft on terrorism. I worry that we are becoming used to government arbitrariness and mindless cruelty. I suspect that conservatives are often conflating their dislike of the president’s soft touch and indecision about terrorism with neglect of fairness and humanity. I fear we are becoming less American.

Let me ask again: What if this man, and some others in Guantanamo, have done absolutely nothing against us?

Of course, I hope the US will keep Guantanamo prison open as long as necessary. In fact, I expect fresh planeloads of real terrorist from Syria and Iraq to come in soon. I really hope that Congress will have the intestinal fortitude to call President Obama’s bluff on closing the prison. Congress has the means to stop it if it wants to.

Blind Faith

By Adam Magoon

On November, 26th Eric Liu, founder of “Citizen University”, a pro-government think-tank, wrote a telling article about having faith in government on the CNN opinion page. He begins the piece with a story about leaving his suitcase in a New York City cab saying:

“I had an experience recently that reinvigorated my faith in humanity — and bureaucracy.”

Keep that equivalency in your mind for a few minutes. Humanity and bureaucracy.

He goes on to explain that he did not even realize he left the suitcase in the cab for twenty minutes and only then began calling people for help. He explains this process in detail, emphasis mine:

“For almost three hours, various people tried to help me — two folks at my bank, whose credit card held the only record of the cab ride; three people at two yellow cab companies based in Long Island City; a service rep at the New York City Taxicab & Limousine Commission; people in my office back in Seattle.”

So Eric was helped by no less than eight individuals (counting the cab driver) in his successful search for his luggage. Eight people helped improve Eric’s business trip. He then claims this experience taught him three lessons.

First:

“Always, always get a receipt.”

This, as he says, is obvious.

Second:

“Another is that New Yorkers, contrary to popular belief and their own callous pose, are essentially nice.”

As someone born in New York I would like to think this is true, but I adhere to the maxim that terms such as “New Yorker” can only describe places where someone lives or is born. Saying “all New Yorkers are nice” is equivalent to saying “all Scots are drunks” or “all Scandinavians are attractive”. Essentially it is a non-statement that is easily refuted. There are just as many people who would have taken anything of value from his case and threw it into the nearest dumpster.

That is just the appetizer though, here is the main course.

His final lesson, and where the train totally leaves the rails, is this:

“But the third, even more deeply contrary to popular belief, is that government is not the enemy.”

Wait, what?! What kind of logic is Mr. Liu using? Of the eight people who helped him only one (the service representative at the New York City Taxicab & Limousine Commission named Valerie) even worked for a governmental organization and “she insisted she was just doing her job”. How did Mr. Liu get to “government is not the enemy” from that series of events? He goes on to claim that:

“Government is not inherently inept. It’s simply us — and as defective or capable of goodness as we are”.

Mr. Liu tries to rationalize his faith in government with a single good experience with a few select people. What he ignores though, is that many people are not “essentially nice”. If that were the case crime, corruption, and violence simply wouldn’t exist. There are people in the world who only seek to exploit and profit from the work of others and to quote the great classical liberal theorist Frédéric Bastiat:

As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose — that it may violate property instead of protecting it — then everyone will want to participate in making the law, either to protect himself against plunder or to use it for plunder”

Even if we were to assume that most people in the world are “essentially nice” the very nature of government attracts precisely the opposite type; the corrupt, the malevolent and the lazy. His agenda finally becomes clear nearly two-thirds of the way through the article when Mr. Liu unabashedly asks us to not wonder what our country can do for us, but rather what we can do for our country in response to the failed Obamacare launch.

Individuals are expected to bail the government out when it fails at intruding into our lives? How can we expect the government to run healthcare without kickbacks and corruption when they cannot even get someone to build the website without it being a disaster?

Mr. Liu fails to offer any helpful advice on how to improve things but he does offer one revealing suggestion. He says that citizens should not expect the “state…to serve us perfectly” and that individuals should not “forget how to serve”.

The argument often goes that taxes pay for services provided by the government but Mr. Liu suggests we shouldn’t expect too much from those services. That we shouldn’t get upset when we pay a third of our labor to the government and it spends that money on things we do not want; in fact he implies we should fix for free the broken things they have already spent our money on.

If Mr. Liu goes out to dinner and his silverware is dirty when he sits at the table does he go back to the sink and wash them? Or does he expect more from the things he spends his money on? At least in that situation Mr. Liu could choose to spend his money elsewhere. With the government spending our money for us we aren’t even afforded that meager victory.

A Few Fun Links

  1. Europeans: anti-Semitic violence is okay as long as it’s done in the name of Palestine
  2. Five reasons to withdraw from Afghanistan by Malou Innocent in the National Interest
  3. Speaking of Afghanistan, Justin Raimondo wonders if the murderer acted alone
  4. In USAToday (!!) there is a great piece on libertarianism and science. Be warned all ye religious libertarians! (ht Wilson Mixon)

Okay! Okay! Perhaps they’re not that fun, but enlightening I hope.