Monthly Archives: November 2007

Government Assisted Property Theft in Boulder, Colorado

For anyone who owns property who believes that because they have paid for the property, paid the property taxes, and paid other applicable fees they have all the legal rights to their land, it might be a good idea to take a look at the state and local statutes. Don and Susie Kirlin, who bought two undeveloped lots in Boulder, Colorado some 23 years ago, were trying to decide whether to sell one or both lots or build their dream home. During this process, they had a dispute with neighbors Edith Stevens and Richard McLean about a fencing issue. Mr. McLean, who happens to be a former judge, decided to take things to the next level by taking advantage of a little known 16th Century legal doctrine from English common law called “adverse possession” in an attempt to legally steal the property from the Kirlins.

Stevens and McLean said in court that they knew the land was owned by someone else, but they used it anyway for access to their yard, to host parties and to store a wood pile.

[…]

The doctrine, incorporated into Colorado’s Revised Statutes, essentially states that if a person occupies the land owned by another person for long enough, without being challenged or given permission by the owner, the land becomes the property of the person most attached to its use.

In Colorado, the statutory time a property must be occupied before asserting adverse possession is 18 years, and even then, squatters have a heavy burden to prove that they meet all the requirements of the law. In the case of McLean and Stevens, Boulder District Court Judge James C. Klein found the couple had taken possession of their neighbor’s land in an “actual, adverse, hostile, under right of claim, exclusive and uninterrupted” manner — consistent with the language of the law.”

Klein signed an order Oct. 17 demanding that the Kirlins sign over the title to the 12-foot-by-3-foot, semi-circular trail — or about 34 percent of their lot — to McLean and Stevens.

So, if I pile some wood on a vacant lot, make a pathway, and treat it as my own property for 18 years with neither permission nor challenge from the owner, I could have legal rights to as much as 34% of his or her property without paying a cent in taxes let alone compensate the owner? What a deal!

Here we have a judge taking advantage of a couple using his knowledge and their ignorance of the law to steal from them. The Kirlins have since appealed the ruling and have found a great deal of moral support from the community.

This land grab has also received the attention of one state legislator, Rob Witwer, who wants to amend the law in the next session. “We don’t want to have a law on the books that is a vehicle for injustice that allows somebody who is proceeding in bad faith to use that law take somebody’s land,” Witwer explained. Witwer says he wants to amend the law rather than abolish it to protect people who, for example, in good faith accidentally build a home that goes over the property line by a few inches (which seems reasonable to me).

Let this be a lesson to property owners everywhere: if you see your neighbor using your land in any way without your permission, don’t try to be the nice guy, stop them immediately. You must act proactively and don’t count on the government to protect your rights for you. As so often is the case, government is not your friend.

Libetarianism Co-Option Watch

A lot of people are calling themselves libertarians these days, but it seems doubtful that many of them really believe in a consistent philosophy of individual liberty. When the word “libertarian” can be used to self-describe someone like Bill Mahr or Markos Moulitsas, it’s pretty much devoid of any meaning.

The latest example comes from Patrick Ruffini, who has a column up Hugh Hewitt’s blog discussing what he thinks libertarianism’s future is all about:

 Assuming Paul loses, where does small-l libertarianism go from here? His movement already did the smart thing by making peace with social conservatism. Libertarianism is no longer aligned with libertine stances on abortion and gay rights.

To become the ascendant ideology within the GOP, I suspect they’ll have to find a way to do the same thing on national security. The war on terror writ large is the one big thing social and economic conservatives agree on, and Ron Paul is vocally aligned against both.

Mainstream Republican libertarians might be gung-ho for Paul’s small-government idealism, they might adopt Glenn Reynoldsish skepticism of the homeland security bureaucracy, and even John McCain has lately made a thing of ripping the military-industrial complex, but there is no way — I repeat NO WAY — they will embrace Ron Paul if he continues to blame America for 9/11 and imply that America is acting illegally in defending itself around the globe. Even if they aren’t the biggest fans of the war, most people that are available for Ron Paul on the right are by temperament patriotic and will never vote for someone who sounds like Noam Chomsky.

When he’s analyzing elections, Ruffini is top-notch, but he’s also a conservative so it’s understandable that he’d be under the mistaken impression that just because Ron Paul opposes abortion rights and thinks that states should have the right to ban gay marriage that libertarians as a group have suddenly adopted the social conservative gospel on either of those issue. If he paid more attention to libertarians than he apparently has before Ron Paul ran for President, Ruffini would know that his positions on abortion and gay rights are not shared by most other people who call themselves libertarians.

In Ruffini’s mind, then, Ron Paul has succeeded because he melded libertarianism with social conservatism. Therefore, he seems to argue, if libertarians really want to succeed, they should adopt neo-conservative foreign policy.

But then it really wouldn’t be libertarianism would it ?

Libertarians can and do disagree on foreign policy issues, and there’s been more than enough criticism of what sometimes seems like a naive view of Islamic terrorism that comes from some corners of the movement. And there is plenty of disagreement with the idea that the United States should withdraw inside its borders and not worry about any nation that can’t directly strike us. But there’s absolutely nothing that neo-conservatives who think that invading Iraq was a good idea, even if it was badly executed, can offer that would be of value to libertarianism.

So what would Ruffini define as libertarianism ?

As someone who routinely called myself a libertarian prior to 9/11, here’s how I would square the circle: Absolute freedom within our borders, for our own citizens; eternal vigilance and (when necessary) ruthlessness abroad. For libertarian ideals to survive, they must be relentlessly defended against the likes of Islamic extremists

On some level, this almost sounds appealing. Absolute freedom at home ? Sounds good to mean. Eternal vigilance and ruthlessness in the face of our enemies ? Sounds fine too.

The problem comes when you remember that the “absolute freedom” that Ruffini talks about is tempered by social conservative and Christianist restrictions on personal liberty for those deemed to be engaging in “unacceptable” behavior and that our experiences since 9/11 have indicated that the price of vigilance all too often includes unacceptable intrusions into the civil liberties of American citizens and that ruthlessness often includes the use of methods of torture that one would have thought the civilized world had left behind long ago.

Ruffini is right that the American public may well react negatively to someone who says that the United States is to blame for 9/11. Additionally, opinion polls consistently show that the American public has a different view of the War on Terror than they do of the Iraq War.

But opposition to the Iraq War doesn’t necessarily equate to adoption of the foreign policy views of the guys over at LewRockwell.com, and there’s no need for libertarians to turn into Norman Podhoretz for the sake of winning elections.

Liberty and Racial Discrimination: Responding to David Duke

An earlier post of mine concerning members of Stormfront who are publicly supporting Ron Paul generated some very heated responses and a number of comments from people who are part of various movements that are generally tarred as being racist. Some of them made some very good points, and others raised questions that I think warrant an answer. This post is intended to acknowledge the good points and to answer those questions, especially the ones which were raised by David Duke.

The first point was made by commenter Drena who said,

I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to equate modern white supremacists with Nazism. The Nazis were anti-capitalist, protectionist, and in favor of central economic planning. There is nothing to stop a white supremacists from actively supporting laissez-faire capitalism. It is quite a leap to assume that because a person who thinks that his race is superior to another race, that he is in favor of Nazi economics. Nazis were economic fascists who just happened to be white supremacists. Modern day white supremacists may be more sophisticated than you think.

This is true, to a point. It’s quite possible to be a person who discriminates racially, but because you respect the rights of others and refuse to aggress against the people against whom you discriminate against. And certainly, I don’t have any problem with such forms of racial discrimination. I consider it to be stupid, but a person can chose whom he or she does business with, and I won’t try to prevent him or her from exercising his or her freedoms in ways that I consider stupid.

I say it is possible, but does not seem to happen much in practice. People who wish to practice racial discrimination often want to practice aggression against those whom they don’t approve of. Sometimes it’s out of an unwillingness to respect the rights of the people whom they don’t like, such as the Stormfront poster who claimed that the only thing certain black members of Congress were good for was target practice. Often, though, it’s the result of the economic disadvantage that people practicing racial discrimination place themselves in.

Discrimination Defined

At this point, I should digress to define discrimination. A lot of people have no understanding what it is, other than being told that it is bad. Discrimination is the act of judging someone by a quality they possess.

When is Discrimination Economically Beneficial?

Now, some discrimination is justified. For example, if a person wanted to hire someone to prepare a new translation of the 1001 Nights from Arabic into Swahili, he would almost certainly refuse to hire anyone who didn’t speak both languages. This form of discrimination against people who do not speak both Swahili and Arabic is entirely appropriate.

When is Discrimination Economically Harmful?

On the other hand some forms of discrimination are economically disadvantageous; for example, if the person refused to consider any candidate who wasn’t blond haired and blue eyed, he would be discriminating against people for reasons that have nothing to do with their abilities to do the job.

Why is this harmful?

Effects on the ‘victim’

For the “victim” of the discrimination, a dark-haired job applicant, the harm is quite obvious, since he cannot get the job. In fact, if such discrimination is endemic, he would have to settle for a job that does not fully take advantage of his wealth-creation potential, and thus his earnings will be less, his life less-fulfilled, etc. I should point out, though, that our dark-haired translator is not truly a victim; he has not been aggressed against – rather, an employer has merely declined to hire him.

Effects on the ‘oppressor’

But what harm to the employer?

Well, in my blatantly contrived example, he has limited his pool of applicants dramatically – whereas there might be fifteen applicants in the city who know both languages, there might only be one or two blond ones. The two guys can charge a much higher price for doing the work than they could command competing against a larger pool of talent. Additionally, the blond guys might not be the best in the field, and the employer could end up producing a very poor quality translation, and have to sell fewer books at a lower cost, reducing the return on his investment.

Effects on the ‘beneficiary’ of the discrimination

What about the blond Arabic/Swahili translator? Well, he might get a cushy job, but if the discrimination is widespread, the economic inefficiencies described above means that he will pay more for goods of less quality than he would in a society that did not discriminate against non-blonde people.

Using Government to Evade Economic Costs

The disadvantage suffered by those who practice racial discrimination was the historical impetus behind many Jim Crow laws. A racist who refused to hire black laborers had to pay a premium for his labor, while his less picky competitor would pay a discount for black workers and be able to undercut the racist. These people, unable to compete without sacrificing their cherished desire to racially discriminate often call for laws to prevent their competitors from taking advantage of the untapped pool of workers.

Note that this only applies if the racial discrimination is unwarranted. If one’s race truly is a determinant of one’s abilities, than the guy who uses race as a determinant in deciding whether to do business with someone could be making a great decision. In such cases, the person who refused to racially discriminate would be the one at a competitive disadvantage. I personally feel that racial discrimination is, generally, a dumb idea, as evidenced by the many laws passed to promote segregation and racial discrimination throughout history (and not just in the U.S.).

Now these laws were acts of aggression against innocent people. Primarily these laws targeted the freedom of association preventing people from conducting business with whomever they wish, for example when a school is forbidden from hiring black teachers., or a businessman is forbidden from hiring a black foreman or a bus company is required to segregate its customers by race.

Make no mistake, these laws are collectivist. In the end, they force people to trade goods and services not with the partners they would prefer, but with other people selected for them by the state. It really does not matter that the selection is performed impersonally.

The Difference Between Modern ‘White-Nationalism’ and German Nazism

Which now brings me to a point made by many respondents who posted comments to the effect that they were not “white supremacists” but rather “white nationalists”, and that their views diverged very radically from that of the German NDASP (the original Nazi party). » Read more

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Are We All Libertarians Now ?

As I noted yesterday, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post about the rise of a libertarian voting bloc, most notably found in the movement that has grown around the Ron Paul campaign.

The more interesting question, though, is whether the American public really is becoming more libertarian, and what that means for the country’s political future.

At Liberal Values, Ron Chusid argues that the ideas that are taking hold with the public resemble libertarianism, but aren’t of the doctrinaire variety that seems to motivate those attracted to Ron Paul’s campaign: 

Libertarianism, especially as advocated by Ron Paul, is not the only pro-freedom philosophy and in some cases does not advocate freedom as seen by most Americans. Most see freedom in terms of how government impacts their lives, not whether the Federal Reserve is ended or American returns to the gold standard. Americans who reject the social policies of the religious right will find many of the same faults in Ron Paul, who denies that the founding fathers envisioned a secular society characterized by separation of church and state and who claims that the founding fathers envisioned the United States as a Christian nation. Paul’s support for federal legislation banning so-called partial birth abortions and legislation to eliminate the legal distinction between a zygote and a fully developed human contradict his claims of both supporting freedom and supporting state’s rights.

Chusid also makes point that I’ve made myself several times, that Federalism and individual liberty are not necessarily the same thing:

The stress for state’s rights is also not what most Americans are looking for when seeking freedom. What matters is the relationship between the individual and government, regardless of level of government. Turning duties performed by the federal government over to the states might sometimes be good, but this is not necessarily a matter of greater freedom. Often it is the reverse. Paul’s lack of acceptance of the 14th Amendment, which extended Constitutional liberties from the federal government to the states, could result in less freedom. It is often necessary to protect the rights of the minority from the majority. It is far easier to gain a majority to restrict liberties in a state or local area as opposed to nationally

As I noted in the comments to this post, the post-Reconstruction history of the South, dominated as it was by Jim Crow and the often brutal suppression of the individual liberties of black Americans, was by it’s very nature entirely a creation of state law and the reluctance of the Federal Government to do what needed to be done to enforce the 14th Amendment.

That’s why, for people who want to restrict the role of government in their lives, the idea of simply transferring power from Washington to, say, Trenton, isn’t entirely attractive.  Additionally, with the Civil War now 140 years in the past, most Americans no longer think of themselves primarily as residents of the state in which they happen to reside but as citizens of the United States — the idea that their home state, assuming they even still live in their home state, deserves some special loyalty is alien to most Americans. Therefore, a political movement based primarily on “states rights” is unlikely to have the appeal that it did even back in the 1950s.

Chusid also notes that Americans haven’t fully accepting the libertarian message because they have come to believe that there are some areas where government is necessary. While I don’t agree with him entirely on this point, it’s hard to deny that this is at least partially true.

Chusid’s argument is similar to the one advance by Cato Institute scholar Brink Lindsey, who has argued that America’s creation of a mass affluence society has established trend that, on the whole, will lead to a political environment that is more skeptical of state intervention but accepts the role of government in the economy at some level.

It’s not a libertarian utopia, but it’s also not another Sweden and that, at least, is a start.

It’s Time For Separation of Marriage And State

Historian Stephanie Coontz has an interesting article in today’s New York Times examining the relationship between the state and the institution of marriage. As Coontz notes, the idea that all marriages must be licensed by the state is a relatively recent phenomenon historically speaking:

For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.

Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.

That practice carried over to the American colonies and, later, the United States, where, as Coontz notes, marriage licensing laws quickly became a way to prevent socially disapproved inter-racial marriages:

By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce.

Additionally, the existence of a marriage license was used for another purpose; to determine how, if at all benefits ranging from Social Security benefits to employer-provided health care would be distributed. At the time, it made sense because, up until the 1970s , virtually all adults were married.

As Coontz says, though, such distinctions no longer make sense:

Possession of a marriage license is no longer the chief determinant of which obligations a couple must keep, either to their children or to each other. But it still determines which obligations a couple can keep — who gets hospital visitation rights, family leave, health care and survivor’s benefits. This may serve the purpose of some moralists. But it doesn’t serve the public interest of helping individuals meet their care-giving commitments.

Nor does it recognize the right of individuals to enter into relationships of their own choosing, for their own reasons.

Coontz ends her essay with the statement that we should consider returning to the way things were in the Middle Ages; let the churches decide what marriages they will recognize, and let individuals enter into whatever committed relationship they desire.

I said pretty much the same thing about a year ago:

Get rid of civil marriage licenses entirely. Let people decide for themselves what they believe about marriage and let them, if they wish solemnize that union in a church of their choice. We are hundreds of years past the day where the state was involved in religious affairs, it doesn’t need to be involved in this matter either.

One would think that this would be a solution to issues like gay marriage that would make everyone happy.

H/T: Jon Henke

Jon Kyl Running To Replace Trent Lott

By the end of the day today, Trent Lott will announce that he’s leaving the Senate by the end of 2008 and, of course, stepping down as Senate Minority Whip.

This morning, The Politico is reporting that Arizona’s Jon Kyl will run to replace Lott as Republican Minority Whip:

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) will run for Senate minority whip, according to a source close to the Arizona Republican.

“Kyl is running for whip,” confirmed the source.

Kyl is seeking to replace Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who is preparing to announce later today that he will be retiring from the Senate in the next few weeks. Lott has scheduled two press conferences in Mississippi for later today.

Kyl, currently the number three Senate Republican as Republican Conference chairman, is the chief spokesman for the party. He was re-elected to a third term in 2006 by a 53-43 point margin over Democrat Jim Pederson.

The reason this might be good news ? Well, Kyl earned a 90.0 in the most recent Liberty Index put out by the Republican Liberty Caucus. Not perfect, and not a perfect measurement, but it’s a sign that Kyl, like other members of the Class of `94 that are still around, are better on economic and liberty issues than guys like Lott, and their ascendancy to leadership positions is arguably a good thing.

Bruce Fein’s Anti-Dynasty Amendment

Grover Norquist writes in the Financial Times about a Constitutional Amendment being proposed by Bruce Fein that would prevent the family member of a federal office holder from succeeding them in office:

The US was founded as a constitutional republic. There were to be no kings, dukes or other rapscallions in the New Jerusalem.

Thomas Paine spoke for all of us in Common Sense, saying there was no role for hereditary monarchy in the new world: “For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever, and though himself might deserve some decent degree of honours of his contemporaries, yet his descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit them.”

America’s national constitution, written by representatives of 13 jealous states, even gives the federal government the task of guaranteeing a “republican form of government” in the states and adds: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.” The queen of Hawaii had to go.

It could not be much clearer. No aristocracy. No king. No inherited titles.

And, yes, as Norquist notes, recent American history is replete with examples of family members following each other in office. Most commonly, this has happened when a prominent Congressman or Senator has died and his spouse is appointed to complete his term; the most prominent example of this was when Hubert Humphrey’s wife, Muriel, was appointed to finish out his term in the Senate back in the 1970s. Later, Mary Bono succeeded Sonny Bono as a California Congressman. And, of course, from 1988 until now, we’ve seen the White House held by two families with the prospect of that continuing until at least 2013.

Fein’s proposed Amendment reads as follows:

Section 1. No spouse, sibling or child of an elected or appointed federal, state or local official outside the civil service may immediately succeed that official in the same elected or appointed office.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation, including exempting certain elected or appointed offices from its general proscription and defining the term “immediately succeed” to prevent circumventions.

Fein’s Amendment is clearly motivated by the fact that, with Hillary Clinton looking like the certain Democratic nominee and the frontrunner in the 2008 General Election, America is faced with the prospect of enduring a 30 year period when the same two families (father and son, husband and wife) occupy the White House.

While I’ve noted myself that this is something to be concerned about, it’s also an historical anomaly. Prior to the 2000 Election, the last time that a son followed his father into the White House was when John Quincy Adams was elected in 1824.

Other than that, the only other examples of family members following each other into the White House are when Benjamin Harrison became President in 1888, nearly fifty years after his grandfather’s brief time in office, and when Franklin Roosevelt was elected to the office thirty years after his distant cousin Theodore.

In other words, the dynastic succession that Fein seems to fear, while understandable, is something that has almost never happened in American history (the closest example I could find is a certain Senate seat in Massachusetts which, except for a brief two year period that ended in 1962, has been occupied by a Kennedy every year since 1952).

Moreover, as Mark at Publius Endures notes, the Amendment he proposes would not have prevented George W. Bush’s election in 2000, and would have no impact on Hillary Clinton’s run in 2008. The only way that could happen would be to write the amendment in such a way that it would provide that a family member could never hold an office once occupied by a former family member; and it’s doubtful that a restriction that broad would ever make it through the amendment process.

Finally, as with much about American politics, the tendencies that concern Fein and Norquist will prove to be largely self-correcting. George W. Bush followed his father into the White House, but, thanks largely to the second Bush Administration’s less than stellar performance, it’s unlikely we’ll see another Bush in the White House anytime soon — a fact that Jeb Bush recognized a few years ago when he announced that he would not be running for President in 2008. And even Hillary Clinton’s ascendancy is not guaranteed; her negatives remain higher than any other candidate’s, and her election is by no means assured.

By and large, Fein’s Amendment seems to be a solution in search of a problem and, like many other proposed Constitutional Amendments, it doesn’t need to be passed.

About That North American Union…..

….it’s absolutely false.

What’s the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP)? The precursor to the NAU, umm…no.

The SPP does exist, and its tri-national task forces continue to meet, but its members consider it a way for the United States, Canada, and Mexico to collaborate on issues such as customs, environmental and safety regulations, narcotics smuggling, and terrorism.

In other words, a commission in order to cooperate on cross-border issues. Nothing evil or sinister here.

What about this common currency, the Amero:

One of the vice chairs of the [Council on Foreign Relations] working group was a political science professor at American University and former Carter administration official named Robert Pastor. In 2001, Pastor had written a book arguing for greater economic integration between the three North American nations – and specifically discussed the possibility that the nations could jointly adopt an amero currency.

A former Carter administration official writes a book and serves on a CFR working group about greater economic ties between the US, Canada, and Mexico and talks about a common currency and people go apeshit. It was just an idea. Just because someone suggests a common currency between the NAFTA members doesn’t mean there is a plan to adopt one.

Finally, the NAFTA Superhighway:

The NAFTA Superhighway has a more complicated origin. One piece is a nonprofit organization, called the North America’s Supercorridor Coalition, or NASCO, dedicated to ensuring the efficiency and safety of some of the country’s major truck trade routes – a map from the organization’s website has shown up on NAU watchdog websites, erroneously labeled the blueprint for the NAFTA Superhighway. Another is a controversial toll highway that Texas is considering building to accommodate the sharp increase in freight traffic brought by NAFTA.

In other words, it doesn’t exist and there is no plan to build one.

To sum up the North American Union, it doesn’t exist outside of some books and the occasional think tank discussion. There is no plan to create one by the governments in North America.

Now can we start discussing the real issues affecting this country and can we start defending our liberty against real threats, instead of making up phony threats.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Morality And Emergencies

Time Magazine has what it calls a morality quiz, putting forth several different scenarios and asking which course of action you’d take. The theme of each question is similar and they are all designed around the theme of when it is morally acceptable to sacrifice the life of another person.

If you’re at all interested, you can take the quiz yourself and then come back here.

The problem with the entire premise of the quiz is that it makes the mistaken assumption that the scenarios that it posits are examples of situations in which normal morality still applies, thus leading to the (incorrect I submit) conclusion that there are times when it is morally acceptable to sacrifice the life of a for the sake of others.

The proper way of looking at these emergency situations, though, is as precisely that emergencies. Ayn Rand made this point about the applicability of normal human morality to emergencies:

It is important to differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence. This does not mean a double standard of morality: the standard and the basic principles remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise definitions.

An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible—such as a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck. In an emergency situation, men’s primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions (to reach dry land, to put out the fire, etc.).

By “normal” conditions I mean metaphysically normal, normal in the nature of things, and appropriate to human existence. Men can live on land, but not in water or in a raging fire. Since men are not omnipotent, it is metaphysically possible for unforeseeable disasters to strike them, in which case their only task is to return to those conditions under which their lives can continue. By its nature, an emergency situation is temporary; if it were to last, men would perish.

She expanded on this point in a radio interview in the 1960s:

Q: Miss Rand, a particular example has been brought to my attention, involving suicide, or apparent suicide, and it goes as follows. If Man B is placed in a situation where he is under a threat of death by Man A, and the threat is contingent on Man B killing Man C, what is the resolution of this situation philosophically? What are the moral explanations of the possible actions of Man B?

A: In a case of that kind, you cannot morally judge the action of Man B. Since he is under the threat of death, whatever he decides to do is right, because this is not the kind of moral situation in which men could exist. This is an emergency situation. Man B, in this case, is placed in a position where he cannot continue to exist. Therefore, what he does is up to him. If he refuses to obey, and dies, that is his moral privilege. If he prefers to obey, you could not blame him for the murder. The murderer is Man A. No exact, objective morality can be prescribed for an issue where a man’s life is endangered.

In other words, when life is in danger from some external force, it simply doesn’t make sense to judge a man’s actions by a moral code — and it makes even less sense to come up with a moral code that makes suicide the only moral choice.

The Road To Recession

The American economy, fueled by the mortgage market, has soared over the last few years. What remains to be seen is whether there is a crash, as myself and others are predicting, or a “soft landing”, as many economists predict. Of course, The Economist magazine explains just what those predictions are usually worth:

IN 1929, days after the stockmarket crash, the Harvard Economic Society reassured its subscribers: “A severe depression is outside the range of probability”. In a survey in March 2001, 95% of American economists said there would not be a recession, even though one had already started. Today, most economists do not forecast a recession in America, but the profession’s pitiful forecasting record offers little comfort. Our latest assessment (see article) suggests that the United States may well be heading for recession.

So are we on the road to recession*? A lot of that depends on inflation (see the postscript at the end of this article), which means a lot of it depends on the dollar. I have contended that a lot of our inflation is being hidden by other countries hoarding dollars as a reserve currency, which acts as a sinkhole where those dollars are removed from the general economy. It’s possible, though, that this may be changing:

The enfeebled dollar—lately in sight of $1.50 to the euro—would be weaker still without enormous purchases by central banks in emerging economies. This support is now waning. China and others are putting a smaller share of increases in reserves into the American currency. And Asian and Middle Eastern countries with currencies linked to the dollar are facing rising inflation, but falling American interest rates make it harder to tighten their own monetary policy. They may have to let their currencies rise against the sickly greenback, meaning they will need to buy fewer dollars. More important, as international investors wake up to the relative weakening of America’s economic power, they will surely question why they hold the bulk of their wealth in dollars. The dollar’s decline already amounts to the biggest default in history, having wiped far more off the value of foreigners’ assets than any emerging market has ever done.

The vigour of emerging economies is good news for the world economy: for its growth, it has much less need of a strong America. The bad news for America is that this, in turn, may mean that the world also has less need of the dollar.

Good news for the world… From the emphasized portion of the excerpt above, our inflationary policies continually devalue the reserves of dollars that other nations hold. If they can find a reserve with more stable value than the dollar, they might escape from dollar hegemony. But that’s bad news for America, as we may have to earn our imports, instead of sending newly-printed bills overseas to obtain them.

» Read more

Quotes Of The Day: James Madison Edition

Words of wisdom from the Father Of The Constitution:

“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

“It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”

“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

“The executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war.”

“War should only be declared by the authority of the people, whose toils and treasures are to support its burdens, instead of the government which is to reap its fruits.”

“Each generation should be made to bear the burden of its own wars, instead of carrying them on, at the expense of other generations.”

H/T: Sully

Sunday Open Thread: Understanding The Bitterness

Mark at Publius Endures throws some questions to that sub-set of Ron Paul supporters who have reacted to any sign of disagreement as a personal afront — something we’ve seen here in comment threads like this one, this one, and this one:

As I and a number of other libertarian bloggers who question Ron Paul on some things have found out, there seems to be a mentality that if you don’t support every word that Ron Paul says, you are inherently anti-liberty and anti-freedom. Isn’t this exactly the kind of “you’re either with us or you’re against us” mentality that libertarianism seeks to avoid, and that would usually be defined as “collectivism”?

(…)

How does launching into ad hominems against any person who criticizes a Ron Paul position help the Ron Paul campaign? Shouldn’t your goal be to gain their support or at least encourage them to continue giving Ron Paul free publicity?

If your goal is to silence Ron Paul’s critics, then isn’t that quite the opposite of freedom? If your goal is to persuade them, then how does name-calling and baseless accusations about motive make a persuasive case?

I’ve often wondered the same thing myself. So, tell me, what do you think ?

The Awakening Libertarian Masses ?

Reason Magazine’s Nick Gillespie and David Weigel Matt Welch have a front-page piece in this week’s Washington Post Sunday Outlook section devoted to explaining to the Beltway glitterati just what this libertarian thing is all about:

When a fierce Republican foe of the wars on drugs and terrorism is able, without really trying, to pull in a record haul of campaign cash on a day dedicated to an attempted regicide, it’s clear that a new and potentially transformative force is growing in American politics.

That force is less about [Texas Congressman Ron] Paul than about the movement that has erupted around him — and the much larger subset of Americans who are increasingly disillusioned with the two major political parties’ soft consensus on making government ever more intrusive at all levels, whether it’s listening to phone calls without a warrant, imposing fines of half a million dollars for broadcast “obscenities” or jailing grandmothers for buying prescribed marijuana from legal dispensaries.

And while the media focuses on opposition to the Iraq War as the primary reason behind the phenomenon of people who have never been involved in politics before rallying behind a grandfather from Texas, Gillespie and Weigel Welch argue that there’s more to it than that, and more to it than just Ron Paul:

[I]f war were the only answer for his improbable run, why Ron Paul instead of the perennial peacenik Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic congressman from Ohio whose apparent belief in UFOs is only slightly less kooky than his belief in the efficacy of socialized health care?

Part of the reason is Republican muscle memory. Paul’s “freedom message” is the direct descendant of Barry Goldwater’s once-dominant GOP philosophy of libertarianism (which Ronald Reagan described in a 1975 Reason magazine interview as “the very heart and soul of conservatism”). But that tradition has been under a decade-long assault by religious-right moralists, neoconservative interventionists and a governing coalition that has learned to love Medicare expansion and appropriations pork.

So Paul’s challenge represents a not-so-lonely GOP revival of unabashed libertarianism. All his major Republican competitors want to double down on Bush’s wars; none is stressing any limited-government themes, apart from half-hearted promises to prune pork and tinker on the margins of Social Security.

The real test isn’t going to come from who wins in New Hampshire, or who wins the Republican nomination. The real test will be whether the events of 2007 and 2008 encourage others in the Republican Party (and I say Republican Party, because the prospect of the Democrats ever becoming a free-market party again are essentially nil) to turn take their party back from the authoritarians. Gillespie and Weigel Welch, at least think that it will:

Ron Paul may lose next year’s battle — though not without a memorable fight — but the laissez-faire agitators he has helped energize will find themselves at the leading edge of American politics and culture for years to come.

Let’s hope they’re right.

Update: Edited to note the fact that Matt Welch was the co-author of this Op-Ed piece, not David Weigel.

What’s At Stake In Parker v. D.C.

Mike Cox writes in the Wall Street Journal about what’s at stake in the D.C. gun control case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue in the case is whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, or whether the right is a “collective” one referring to the states’ right to form militias. With the exception of one Federal Circuit Court of Appeal, the consensus since the 1930s has been that the right is a collective one, thus justifying on a constitutional basis nearly any gun control measure you can think of.

As Cox notes, the language and history of the Bill of Rights clearly indicates otherwise:

The rights guaranteed in the Bill of Right are individual. The Third and Fifth Amendments protect individual property owners; the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments protect potential individual criminal defendants from unreasonable searches, involuntary incrimination, appearing in court without an attorney, excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishments.

The Ninth Amendment protects individual rights not otherwise enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The 10th Amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Here, “the people” are separate from “the states”; thus, the Second Amendment must be about more than simply a “state” militia when it uses the term “the people.”

Consider the grammar. The Second Amendment is about the right to “keep and bear arms.” Before the conjunction “and” there is a right to “keep,” meaning to possess. This word would be superfluous if the Second Amendment were only about bearing arms as part of the state militia. Reading these words to restrict the right to possess arms strains common rules of composition.

Colonial history and politics are also instructive. James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights to provide a political compromise between the Federalists, who favored a strong central government, and the Anti-Federalists, who feared a strong central government as an inherent danger to individual rights. In June 1789, then-Rep. Madison introduced 12 amendments, a “bill of rights,” to the Constitution to convince the remaining two of the original 13 colonies to ratify the document.

Madison’s draft borrowed liberally from the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. Both granted individual rights, not collective rights. As a result, Madison proposed a bill of rights that reflected, as Stanford University historian Jack Rakove notes, his belief that the “greatest dangers to liberty would continue to arise within the states, rather than from a reconstituted national government.” Accordingly, Mr. Rakove writes that “Madison justified all of these proposals (Bill of Rights) in terms of the protection they would extend to individual and minority rights.”

One of the earliest scholars of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Justice Joseph Story, confirmed this focus on individuals in his famous “Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States” in 1833. “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms,” Story wrote, “has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of republics, since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers . . .”

Based on the evidence, arguing that the Second Amendment right is somehow collective, when every other right protected by the Bill of Rights is clearly individual, is not only nonsensical, it is a perversion of history.

Update: As I’ve been reminded, the correct style of the case now before the Supreme Court is District of Columbia v. Heller.

Update #2: I should also note that the article of the Wall Street Journal article excerpted above is the Attorney General for the State of Michigan.

Libertarians: The New In-Crowd

The Washington Times notes that a lot of people want to call themselves libertarians these days:

It’s altogether fitting that the new host of “The Price Is Right” — a game show on which contestants try to guess the going rate of various consumer products — is a free-market enthusiast.

More intriguing is said host’s part-time job: libertarian proselytizer.

Comedian Drew Carey can be seen on a series of funny-but-not-kidding Internet-TV episodes sponsored by the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based think tank. So far, Mr. Carey has recommended the privatization of highways as a solution for metropolitan traffic congestion and criticized the federal crackdown on medical marijuana.

Mr. Carey joins the libertarian fold along with the illusionist-comedians Penn & Teller and HBO talk-show host Bill Maher, who has called himself a libertarian for several years.

As the Times’ notes, it’s unclear what that means but what is clear is that it’s merely the reflection of a trend that’s true for American politics as a whole:

It’s not likely libertarianism will become a true third-party alternative; it’s a temperament to which both major parties will need increasingly to appeal.

Mr. Gillespie compares the ideas that underlie libertarianism to a “marinade.”

“Our culture has been soaking in it for years,” he says.

Brink Lindsey, vice president for research at the libertarian Cato Institute and the author of “The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture,” says that since the end of World War II, the country has unconsciously arrived at a vaguely libertarian-ish consensus: It’s culturally tolerant and yet demands personal responsibility for socioeconomic success.

“Generally speaking, the hump of the bell curve of American public opinion is more libertarian than it is distinctly liberal or conservative,” Mr. Lindsey says.

Now, it’s important to note that Lindsey isn’t arguing that the American public is on the verge of embracing the gold standard or privately owned roads. Doctrinaire libertarianism — especially in its sometimes wild anarcho-capitalist varieties — is unlikely to ever be part of the mainstream of American political thought.

What Linsdey points to, though, is nonetheless encouraging; which is that we are approaching a point where the political consensus will be biased in favor of individual choice and against authoritarianism and state action. Therefore, while we’re not likely to see any time soon a day when the New Deal or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is repealed, we’re also not likely to see the birth of a European “social democracy” and, if anything, the power of the state in American life will shrink rather than expand.

Many libertarians and classical liberals would tell you that’s not perfect; but it’s a start, and it’s better than nothing.

Remembering A Forgotten Genocide

During one horrible year starting in 1932, the truth of Stalinism came to be seen in the massacre by starvation of as many as ten million people in what has come to be known as the Ukranian Terror Famine.

The massacre started 75 years ago today when the Soviet Government issued an order increasing the portion of their harvests that Ukranian farmers were required to give to the state, and it resulted in a wholesale collectivization of agriculture in the region. Now, the government of Ukraine is seeking official recognition for what some say was the massacre that gave Hitler the idea that murdering every Jew in Europe might just be possible:

KRASYLIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — After authorities broke into Yakiv Atamanenko’s home in autumn of 1932 and confiscated the family’s food, his mother and two brothers died of starvation and their bloated bodies were tossed among others in a freshly dug grave on the outskirts of this farming village.

Mr. Atamanenko and other survivors said their neighbors, Oleksandra Korytnyk and her husband, ate their two children. “They cut their children into pieces and ate them,” recalled Mr. Atamanenko, now a frail, gray-haired 95-year-old.

In the end, he and others said, the Korytnyks died as well.

Today, Ukraine marks the 75th anniversary of the terrible famine of 1932-33, engineered by Soviet authorities to force peasants across what was then the U.S.S.R. to give up their privately held plots of land and join collective farms. Millions perished.

It will offend the heck out of the Russians, but it’s time that history recognized an event as equally evil as the Holocaust.

Ron Paul, Federalism, And Racism

Prior to Thanksgiving, I noted the criticism that law professor David Bernstein had leveled against the Ron Paul campaign for the associations that have been noted with neo-nazi groups like Stormfront.

In a follow-up post, Bernstein talks about the Paul campaign’s official statement on racism which in essence states:

Government as an institution is particularly ill-suited to combat bigotry. Bigotry at its essence is a problem of the heart, and we cannot change people’s hearts by passing more laws and regulations.

It is the federal government that most divides us by race, class, religion, and gender. Through its taxes, restrictive regulations, corporate subsidies, racial set-asides, and welfare programs, government plays far too large a role in determining who succeeds and who fails. Government “benevolence” crowds out genuine goodwill by institutionalizing group thinking, thus making each group suspicious that others are receiving more of the government loot. This leads to resentment and hostility among us.

Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than as individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called “diversity” actually perpetuate racism.

The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards individual achievement and competence – not skin color, gender, or ethnicity.

Bernstein responds as follows:

[A]t best this statement reveals a naive faith in the idea that government is the root of all problems, as in the old joke, “How many libertarians does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, the market will take care of it!” Don’t like racism? Reduce the federal government and it will go away!

At worst, by completely ignoring the historical role of racism in American society, and the diminished but not insubstantial role racism by whites continues to play in our society, and focusing criticism only on advocates of “diversity,” (even, apparently, when they advocate only voluntary, non-governmental action to achieve diversity), the Paul campaign is appealing to the Pat Buchanan (and beyond) wing of the “Old Right”, while trying to preserve some plausible deniability on race to its more tolerant libertarian constituency.

That’s not to say that personally Paul isn’t really against racism; in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I assume that he is. Rather, the point is that his campaign seems to be taking the same unfortunate position that Goldwater did in 1964; condemning racism in general on principled libertarian grounds, but providing winks and nods that support from racists for racist reasons would be welcome.

Dale Franks makes even stronger comments about the Paul campaign’s statement:

In essence, Mr. Paul’s message is that government causes racism. But he ignores what must be a necessary corollary of that belief: if government has the power to cause racism, it must also necessarily have the power to combat it. You simply cannot have the power to do one without the other.

In a certain sense, of course, Mr. Paul makes a valid point. To the extent that government itself attempts to create favored and disfavored groups, it perpetuates racism. And one can certainly argue that government has in some cases done precisely that.

But one cannot ignore the fact that government action has, by and large, reduced overt discrimination in the last two generations. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 essentially destroyed—completely and permanently—the Jim Crow laws of the South. Yet, any acknowledgment of this is sadly lacking in Mr. Paul’s statement. Yes, government at the state level created Jim Crow. But government at the federal level eliminated it.

On some level, it seems clear that Bernstein and Franks are correct, at least about the naivety of the idea that it’s only primarily the Federal Government that is the source of the problems that create racism.

» Read more

Law Enforcement Using Cell Phone Location Technology

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on an alarming increase in the use of cell phone tracking technology by federal law enforcement:

Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

Such requests run counter to the Justice Department’s internal recommendation that federal prosecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas. The requests and orders are sealed at the government’s request, so it is difficult to know how often the orders are issued or denied.

But some of those requests have become public, and they show that law enforcement agents are relying on a standard far below probable cause to justify their access to technology that essentially acts as a personal GPS tracking device:

In a stinging opinion this month, a federal judge in Texas denied a request by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent for data that would identify a drug trafficker’s phone location by using the carrier’s E911 tracking capability. E911 tracking systems read signals sent to satellites from a phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) chip or triangulated radio signals sent from phones to cell towers. Magistrate Judge Brian L. Owsley, of the Corpus Christi division of the Southern District of Texas, said the agent’s affidavit failed to focus on “specifics necessary to establish probable cause, such as relevant dates, names and places.”

Owsley decided to publish his opinion, which explained that the agent failed to provide “sufficient specific information to support the assertion” that the phone was being used in “criminal” activity. Instead, Owsley wrote, the agent simply alleged that the subject trafficked in narcotics and used the phone to do so. The agent stated that the DEA had ” ‘identified’ or ‘determined’ certain matters,” Owsley wrote, but “these identifications, determinations or revelations are not facts, but simply conclusions by the agency.”

Instead of seeking warrants based on probable cause, some federal prosecutors are applying for orders based on a standard lower than probable cause derived from two statutes: the Stored Communications Act and the Pen Register Statute, according to judges and industry lawyers. The orders are typically issued by magistrate judges in U.S. district courts, who often handle applications for search warrants.

In one case last month in a southwestern state, an FBI agent obtained precise location data with a court order based on the lower standard, citing “specific and articulable facts” showing reasonable grounds to believe the data are “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation,” said Al Gidari, a partner at Perkins Coie in Seattle, who reviews data requests for carriers.

Another magistrate judge, who has denied about a dozen such requests in the past six months, said some agents attach affidavits to their applications that merely assert that the evidence offered is “consistent with the probable cause standard” of Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The judge spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

While some judges appear to be holding law enforcement back on this issue, the majority are rubber-stamping the warrant requests, and law enforcement is responding by relying upon the technology in an increasing number of cases.

That cell phone in your pocket may not be watching you, but it can tell Big Brother where you are.

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