Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I disagree with the LP

Among those that initially opposed, and continue to criticize the invasion of Iraq, is the Libertarian Party. The LP’s latest public offering is a formal proposal that calls for the complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, incrementally over the course of one year, in a position paper entitled: Iraq Exit Strategy (pdf). The argument rests on a few premises, the first of which being the nature of the enemy.
[The] so-called “insurgents” are primarily Iraqis who have taken up arms against the occupying forces in order to protect themselves and reclaim their nation. Evidence shows that the continuing American military presence is, in fact, fueling the continued resistance by Iraqi citizens.


…"insurgents" are newly radicalized Iraqi Sunnis — not remnants of the Ba'ath party.

[and finally]

While it is now evident that al-Qaeda members and other foreign terrorists have moved onto Iraqi soil since the invasion, they represent only a small portion of the insurgency and could be dealt with quickly by a competent Iraqi security force.
At this point in the war, the primary targets of the car-bombs and sucker-punches are Iraqi officials and their police forces, with Iraqi civilians increasingly falling victim to those cowardly thugs. As tragic as the situation is, an even bloodier civil war, contrary to the predictions of many, has not materialized; I would argue that this is due in large part to the US presence. Furthermore, Iraq is no longer a prospective safe haven for al Qaeda.

Another reason for withdrawal, according to the LP, is that this venture has become “unpopular”.
The U.S. military occupation is becoming increasingly unpopular with Iraqis. A recent Zogby opinion poll in Iraq found that 82 percent of Sunnis and 69 percent of Shiites were in favor of the withdrawal of American and coalition forces "either immediately or after an elected government is in place."

While it is too late for U.S. troops to be withdrawn "immediately," elections for the
new Iraqi government have been accomplished, fulfilling the other condition. Polls both in Iraq and in the United States have demonstrated that a majority of citizens in each country want American troops to be pulled out of Iraq.
This just seems silly on its face. Notwithstanding the fact opinion polls are consulted for virtually every political decision these days, matters of war and strategy ought not to be determined by the subjective emotions of “the majority”. The citation of polls by the LP is likely an indication of its anti-war bias, rather than a genuine confidence in a given plurality. Although, it can’t hurt that the “will of the people” coincides with the LP platform, unless of course one favors the rule of law…as I do.

Finally, in an attempt to portray this plan as reasonable, the author employs a bit of Americanese:
With the continued loss of American life, the decline in troop morale, the ongoing expenditure of American taxpayers’ money, and with the declining acceptance of the American presence by Iraqis, it has become necessary to develop a sensible plan for troop withdrawal.
Let’s look at these one at a time. First, the loss of life is part and parcel of any war. Moreover, just over 1700 casualties in two years is remarkably low, relatively speaking. And when the Iraqi political progress is factored in, the cost/benefit analysis ain’t bad. Next, I sincerely doubt that the cost of the current conflict is “exorbitant”, as compared to WWII or the ‘War between the States’. Lastly, the degree of “declining acceptance” by rank and file Iraqis is a matter of debate and frankly, irrelevant. In my view, the "liberation of Iraq" was and is ancillary to the eradication of a potential home-base of operations for terrorists that plot to kill American civilians. As a bonus, the installment of an interim Iraqi government via free elections, along with the current debate about the particulars of a new constitution, lends credence to the military endeavor.

Now, I’m not a “warmonger” by any stretch, but I’m no pacifist either. So, even though I support the current war, I don't advocate “spreading democracy” by the sword. Beside the fact that democracy (rule of man) is problematic, the attainment and protection of Liberty is the responsibility of the individuals that desire it, rather than an ideal that must be imposed upon an unwilling populous. I happen to think that, over time, Iraqis will see the value of political freedom and it just might become engrained within their culture. Regardless, the US military is there to protect the hard won Liberty of Americans from those that seek our destruction. An early withdrawal would be ill-advised, to say the least.

Hat Tip: Tom Knapp, who takes the anti-war position, which is obviously inferior.

al Qaeda in Iraq, before US Invasion

In the wake of the prime-time Presidential address, the buzz in the MSM is that Mr. Bush, in his speech, inappropriately mentioned 9/11, bin Ladin and Iraq in the same context: the global War on Terror. The typical claim are that “Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11” and “al Qaeda was not in Iraq before the US invasion”. As it happens, despite popular belief, both assumptions are incorrect.

With respect to the mass murder on 9/11, Eric sheds light on the bin Ladin/Iraq connection. In the post, Eric quotes from Usama bin Ladin’s Fatwah, which is his formal declaration of war. Here’s another excerpt:
The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God."
Why, one might ask, should bin Ladin expect that “every Muslim” would heed his call to Jihad? The answer is>“People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.


Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.Huh? Let me get this straight…Bush should have preemptively attacked an al Qaeda camp in Iraq (you know, that which supposedly wasn’t there), but should not have preemptively attacked the Iraqi dictator who allowed said camp to operate? While it is true that the above quote is from “military officials”, the tenor is reminiscent of others in the press who, implicitly and explicitly, deride the 2003 move on Iraq. And now, a bit of unsolicited advice from yours truly to the pontificating protestors: pick an argument and stick with it; preferably one that is consistent with the facts rather than partisan talking points…you’re welcome.

Sowell on Property Rights

When the 5 to 4 Supreme Court majority [Kelo v. New London] "rejected any literal requirement that condemned property be put into use for the general public" because of the "evolving needs of society," it violated the Constitutional separation of powers on which the American system of government is based.

When the Supreme Court majority referred to its "deference to legislative judgments" about the taking of property, it was as disingenuous as it was inconsistent. If Constitutional rights of individuals are to be waved aside because of "deference" to another branch of government, then the citizens may as well not have Constitutional rights.

What are these rights supposed to protect the citizens from, if not the government?

-Thomas Sowell

A Birth Announcement

A new community of bloggers has been born! The brain-child of Eric Cowperthwait is an up-and-coming loose affiliation of freedom-loving individuals. It’s called…Life, Liberty, Property, of course. You’ll notice a button on the sidebar that will direct you to the LLP, beneath which is the list of its fine members.

Another thing to note is that the LLP will be sponsoring the very first Carnival of Liberty. The host will be none other than Brad Warbiany, The Unrepentant Individual. If you’d like to submit an entry, be my guest; just follow the link and get the info. At the very least, I would urge one and all to be sure to check out the Carnival.

Also, I’d like to recognize the newest members of LLP and recommend them for your blogging pleasure.

-Pole Dancing in the Dark
-Mr. Completely

Finally, I would like to formally express my deepest appreciation and most sincere gratitude to Eric for graciously including Libertopia in the initial line-up of the Life, Liberty, Property community…thanks again.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Nature of Property…

…is inexorably linked to man’s ontology. Moreover, it could be argued that an inherent right to property is integral to the human condition. This is self-evident, as far as this particular minarchist libertarian is concerned. Inasmuch as property bespeaks ownership, it encompasses the other facets of Freedom, which are Life and Liberty. Such concepts have been a matter of public debate in recent days, as Kelo decidedly undermines basic individual rights. Once again, the much maligned SCOTUS ‘ruled’ on a case that centered on Property Rights:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Internet file-trading networks can be held liable when their users copy music, movies and other protected works without permission.


"We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties," Justice David Souter wrote for the court.
David Post of The Volokh Conspiracy points to the heart of the violation at issue:
The full court says: even if you meet the Sony standard (i.e., even if you have "substantial noninfringing uses"), you can still be liable for inducing copyright infringement, if there's evidence that you actively encouraged or promoted infringing conduct. And there is such evidence in this case.
To me, this appears to be an obvious repudiation of naked theft. The fact that the stolen property happens to be ‘intellectual’ in nature, matters not at all. To be sure, much of property is ‘physical’, but as I say, ‘ownership’ is the underlying factor. Furthermore, the copyright is a time-honored protection for various ideas that have the potential to create wealth for the person or entity that created or conceived said property. It seems rather cut-and-dried to me, but Tom Knapp sees it differently:
Apparently the importance of property rights depends on just whose rights we're talking about -- your real ones, or the imagined ones of governments and corporations.
While I share Knapp’s disgust at the Kelo decision, I certainly don’t concur that intellectual property rights are “imagined”. I do agree, however, that governments and corporations don’t have rights, as they are merely abstract entities, but their individual constituents do. In any event, the Grokster decision emphatically, with unanimity, declared that theft is intolerable, even when it is only “encouraged” by “third parties”. The real tragedy is that SCOTUS failed to employ such reasoning with respect to the use of eminent domain.

The aforementioned inconsistency of the High Court prompted Knapp to cite it as a justification (no doubt one of many) for anarchy.
Okay, fine. Screw the Supreme Court and the horse it rode in on. If the state is not bound by the "social contract," then neither are we. The contract is null and void for reason of non-performance by one party of the terms of said contract. The deal is off. The union subsisting, etc., etc., is hereby dissolved. If the nine doddering imbeciles who style themselves the "final arbiters" (yes, Robert, I am speaking to your conception) want my rights, I have but one answer for them: Molon labe, if you can.

Henceforth, the only flag I recognize is the black banner upon which nothing is written.
Whether or not the Constitution is “null and void for reason of non-performance by one party of the terms of said contract” is certainly debatable…perhaps another time.

What I will address is Knapp’s mischaracterization of my “conception” of a “final arbiter”. Contrary to his assertion that the “nine doddering imbeciles” are they to which I was referring, I wrote the following in a previous post:
…Therefore, a minimal government comprised of citizens, that serves as a neutral arbiter and the Rule of law, to which all are fairly and equally bound, strikes a palatable balance between liberty and security…with individual liberty taking precedence.
It is true that nine Justices have the final word with regard to specific laws that are in dispute and are argued before them. Theirs is to interpret the law, rather than create it, whereas the Congress and the Executive do the opposite. All three branches are (theoretically, I’ll grant) constrained by the Constitution, which articulates a Rule of Law that was designed with individual liberty in mind. So, my idea of final arbitration is considerably more complex than an ‘omnipotent’ Judiciary, but at the same time, it’s as simple as a plainly worded, unambiguous and irreducibly minimal set of societal boundaries; the issue of compliance being altogether distinct from the merits of the concept of limited government.

Update: Jury Nullification is yet another safeguard for Liberty in the face of an overbearing state, as our first Chief Justice, John Jay, told jurors: "You have a right to take upon yourselves to judge [both the facts and law]."
Jurors sometimes use nullification to send messages to prosecutors about misplaced enforcement priorities or what they see as harassing or abusive prosecutions. Jury nullification prevents our criminal justice system from becoming too rigid--it provides some play in the joints for justice, if jurors use their power wisely.
Hat Tip: jomama

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Remedy for the Kelo Effect

In the wake of Kelo, the display of outrage among bloggers and blog readers alike has been remarkable. The strong reaction has largely come from, for lack of a better phrase, the non-left. In fact, reaction from the typically vocal Left is conspicuous by its absence. One might expect, me for example, that our collectivist friends would welcome a dilution of property rights, which is of course a delusional proposition. Well, one such lefty, Scott Lemieux, guest blogging for Ezra Klein, (confusing eh?) couldn’t resist minimizing the effect of Kelo by employing a bit of moral equivalence.
The lesson here, again, is that the Constitution does not provide a remedy for every bad public policy. Combining upper-class tax cuts with increased pork-barrel spending, like the current administration is doing, is awful public policy, but it's constitutional, and the same goes for Robert Moses' grandiose road-building schemes. You beat them the way the West Side Stadium was beaten; through politics. Expecting the courts to protect poor property owners by determining which policies are legitimate public interests is a sucker's bet.
While Lemieux’s take is sadly predictable, others of his ilk seem to think that the recent rants have been “inappropriate”. What’s more, the state is viewed as a sort of benign butler with an allergy to totalitarianism. Matthew Yglesias assures us that all is well:
I guess I do turn out to have strong feelings about the inappropriateness of strong feelings about this decision. It seems to me that there's only so outraged one can reasonably get about a decision that, like this one (and like Raich before it), essentially affirms an already-existing rule. If America wasn't a totalitarian dystopia yesterday, then it isn't going to be one tomorrow in light of this ruling. Nothing has changed. Perhaps you think it's bad that nothing has changed, but it's not really the moment to start pulling your hair out. It probably is the moment to start paying closer attention to City Council elections which many people, myself included, tend not to scrutinize much. Those people have real power and it's worth paying attention.
At least Yglesias recognizes that local politicians are the Kleptocrats in the henhouse…but their sights are now set on your house. As a corrective measure, the zombieslayer, in a recent comment, proposed the following solution to Kelo: "I'd love to see someone challenge this by force. It needs to be done. He just stands out there with a shotgun, daring the bulldozers to come onto his property." While that’s certainly the last line of defense, I hope we’re not there yet. No, I think that an intermediate step should be taken. I agree with Stephen Littau, who suggests that a constitutional amendment is in order, as he rightly states: “to protect private property rights”.
With the SCOTUS using their current interpretation of eminent domain, I think amending the constitution is the only answer to reverse this atrocious decision. The language must be clear enough that even Stevens, Ginsberg, and Kennedy can understand; here is my proposed amendment: (the particulars of his proposed amendment can be found here)
It’s clear that our “leaders” are in no way opposed to amending the constitution, as evidenced by their previous asinine attempts in the wrong direction. Yes, I’m speaking of the fact that the House of Representatives approved an amendment that would ban flag desecration, along with a pushing H.J. Res 56 and/or the ironically named "Common Sense Marriage Amendment". So, you want an amendment…ask, and you shall receive. In a comment to this post, Alice mentioned that former CA gubernatorial candidate, State Senator Tom McClintock, has weighed in with his own plan of action:
“The responsibility now falls on the various states to reassert and restore the property rights of their citizens. I am today announcing my intention to introduce an amendment to the California Constitution to restore the original meaning of the property protections in the Bill of Rights. This amendment will require that the government must either own the property it seizes through eminent domain or guarantee the public the legal right to use the property. In addition, it will require that such property must be restored to the original owner or his rightful successor, if the government ceases to use it for the purpose of the eminent domain action.”
Absofreafinlutely! As I’ve argued before, words mean things. Moreover, the protection of Life, Liberty and Property is the primary reason for the existence of the US Constitution and indeed the only justification for the institution of government. Therefore, those that wield power would do well to consider the words of Thomas Jefferson when they seek to capriciously restrict Liberty:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…

Update: A well deserved hat-tip to Lucy Stern and her husband T.F. Stern for pointing out a relevant article in the Houston Chronicle:
Rep. Frank Corte Jr., R-San Antonio, said he would seek "to defend the rights of property owners in Texas" by proposing a state constitutional amendment limiting local powers of eminent domain, or condemnation.

Friday, June 24, 2005

What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine

By this point, unless you live in a cave, you’ve no doubt heard about the Kelo v. New London SCOTUS decision, which all but defines the concept of Property Rights out of existence. Rants on this topic are ubiquitous, so rather than re-plow this particular field, I’ll defer to Eric, who offered a well reasoned assessment of the case in question. Additionally, Eric has posted a roundup of reactions to Kelo that gives one an inkling of the widespread outrage that is reverberating throughout the blogdom.

Courtesy of Nealz Nuze, I would highly recommend a blog, one that is dedicated to the issue of state theft, called Eminent Domain Watch. Here’s a bit from EDW:
Justice Stevens, who delivered the opinion of the Court, suggested that the ball was in the court of the state legislatures as to defining what property could be taken for public use: “We emphasize that nothing in our opinion precludes any State form placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power. Indeed many States already impose ‘public use requirements’ that are stricter than the federal baseline.”
Perhaps contrary to popular opinion, I think Justice Stevens has a point, to some degree. The Fifth Amendment states, in part, the following: …nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. The concept of ‘eminent domain’ is not new and has been used at various times, for this purpose or that, justifiably or not. Furthermore, the language of the 5th is rather vague and somewhat broad in its implications, to say the very least. In light of this, State and local officials ought to be the ones catching hell right now, because they are actually accountable to their constituents, whereas the ‘gang of nine’ is virtually untouchable. There’s an old saying in the South, about politicians (or judges) that are safe in their respective seat of power, which states that: “in order for him to be removed from office, he’d have to be caught in bed with a dead girl…or a live boy”.

One last thought that I think is worthy of consideration, for my anarchist and statist friends alike. What is at the heart of this issue is “might makes right”. In this case, it’s the state that has asserted its supposed authority to tread upon the individual’s right to property…with bulldozers no less. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the ‘bad actors’ in this case are mere men and women, not gods and goddesses. The point being that there has always been, as there will always be, a subset of society that will elevate self aggrandizement far above the inherent rights of others. Therefore, a clearly articulated and equally applied rule of law is the most efficient safeguard for individual liberty, other than the use of violence in the interest of self defense, which is applicable in any social construct.

Update: Eric posted another Kelo Roundup, so go ‘read all about it’.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

On interpretation and meaning of texts

Eric Cowperthwait posted a very good response to ”The case against originalism”, by none other than the lovable lefty…dadahead.

The crux of the issue is whether the US Constitution is a “living document”, the meaning of which being fluid and subject to “interpretation” by whichever Congress and/or Judiciary happens to occupy power, or rather a fixed set of principles that articulates a rule of law and a respect for the natural rights of the individual, which may be amended, provided the requisite supermajority gives consent via ratification. Suffice it to say that I hold the latter to be the case.

Those for whom a “living document” is preferable tend to have a “modern liberal” political philosophy, not to be confused with “Classic Liberal” (libertarian). The usurpation of the “liberal” label in politics is not dissimilar to the evolution of theology, particularly since Constantine institutionalized the Catholic Church in the 4th Century. After roughly a thousand years of homogeneity and subsequent to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century, Christianity has splintered considerably. Over the last five hundred years, dozens of unique Protestant sects have been established, each with its own particular “interpretation” of the Bible. So, I’m reluctant to refer to myself as “Christian”, because that moniker has become a mile wide and only an inch deep. Of late, I’ve used the term “theist”, but perhaps “Classic Christian” is more apt.

Now, I’m relatively familiar with the world-view of those that read my blog, and certainly those that comment with some regularity. Among them are atheists and agnostics, as well as few different sects of Christians. Therefore, rather than delving into a recitation of the nuances of theology as I understand it, I’d like to propose a thought experiment that is relevant to the topic at hand…namely: interpretation of texts.

My purpose here is not to demonstrate the existence of God or the veracity of the Bible, but rather to explore the art and science of textural interpretation. That said, the Bible, like the Constitution, is literary in nature and contains various prescriptions that pertain to human society. Additional similarities include: respect for the author(s), a supposed authoritative quality and seemingly endless disputes about original intent and correct meaning. As it happens, I’ve recently been engaged in just such a dispute in the comment thread of an entry at my friend Hammer’s blog.

The commenter with whom I disagreed is UK John. His position, although he insisted it was not, is reminiscent of ”higher criticism”, which is a branch of literary analysis that attempts to investigate the origins of a text, especially the text of the Bible. Higher criticism in particular focuses on the sources of a document and tries to determine the authorship, date, and place of composition of the text. It sounds innocuous enough, but this technique was used by 19th Century “liberal Christians” who sought to “demythologize” the Bible by essentially declaring that it is the subjective product of mere mortals and therefore cannot be said to have any objective meaning. I attribute this to John because his line of reasoning is consistent with “liberal theology”. For example, when I wrote: …"While disagreements about meaning arise from limited human faculties, logic and particularly the “law of non-contradiction” must not be disregarded. Christians ought to reason together in love, but not tolerate competing contradictory interpretations."…John responded thusly:
OK, we have a few problems here. First, many disagreements will, of course, arise from our limited understanding and wisdom. And we ought to reason together in love. However, the problems are, first, in your "law of non-contradiction". I'd love to know exactly what you mean by this, and where you get it from. Because there are plainly many places in the Bible that *do* contradict one another, forcing us to elevate one reading above another.

Second, and more seriously, your idea that we must "not tolerate competing contradictory interpretations". Even if this was our ideal, how is it possible? If two parties are both convinced that they are right (or, at least, are not convinced that they are wrong, which is hopefully a more likely state), how are we to decide which is the "right" interpretation and thus the one that we must force on everyone? We cannot simply say "mine" (from any faction of the church) because that assumes that we have full insight into God.
Completely befuddled by the implications of John’s response, I answered in kind with what I thought was common knowledge: …”The law of non-contradiction is one of the more basic principles of logic. It states that two opposing concepts cannot be simultaneously true, in the same circumstance and/or the same relationship (X is X and cannot be non-X). With respect to exegesis and hermeneutics, logic and the tools of literary interpretation (e.g. context, author’s intent, style, word usage, etc.) are determinative.”

Whether or not the Bible is divine in origin and therefore inerrant or simply pure fantasy; whether the Constitution is as brilliant as its author and the men that conceived it or merely the product of an obsolete philosophy; these are not the primary questions to ask. Before the issue of quality can be properly assessed, the content of any text must necessarily be apprehended and understood. In other words, what a document says must be ascertained before an accurate value judgment can be made. It seems to me that many modern liberals, be they religious or secular, try to “reinterpret” two of the most revered documents in history to suit their tastes, instead of becoming acquainted with each document and then offering an informed critique, in conjunction with a rational case for their ideology…if indeed such a case can be made.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Popularity Contest

Well, I may as well hang it up, since The Washingtonian has spoken from on-high, by compiling the definitive list of the Best Political Blogs, which are the favorites of DC journalists, who are indeed omniscient. Or…I suppose it can be viewed another way. It could be argued that the ‘blog’ is gaining prominence and is becoming an effective means of discourse, poised to become a catalyst for political change. I tend to think that the latter is more plausible for two reasons:

A.) the MSM largely consists of self-important Lefties that are hell-bent on recreating America in their collectivist image and have little, if any credibility with thinking individuals

B.) I’m an optimist; I truly believe in the power of the individual and I'm foolish enough to think that, in the free market-place of ideas that is the blogosphere, advocates of maximum liberty can inspire a wholesale reduction in the size and scope of government.

hat tip: Liberteaser

The lost love of Liberty...

Stephen Littau, a fearless philosopher, has a patriotic post that balances national pride with the libertarian ideal.
…we have strayed too far from the ideals that made this country what it is today. When we take our Independence Day holiday in a few weeks, let us all spend at least a moment to reflect on the wisdom of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and all of the brave men who dared to declare independence from the paternalistic, tyrannical policies of King George. After taking the time to ponder that, ask yourself the question: “What can I do to bring reason, individual liberty, and the pursuit of science and technology back to the forefront of the American debate?”
Now go forth and read the post in its entirety, along with the other thoughts at Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

How poor is poor?

In a similar vein to this post, albeit tangentially, totalitarianism today uses a CNN Money piece to consider the rich v. poor debate, one that all too often takes center stage with respect to political discourse.
How many policy debates about solutions to poverty end in confusion, since defining poverty in prosperous democracies has become increasingly complicated? Often, the debating parties assume different definitions of poverty without bothering to make their premises and assumptions clear to their opponents. Although economists might argue that "poverty" remains technically an economic description, I think policy advocates bring more to the table than economics when discussing policy solutions to the problem of poverty. For example, assuming a right to free health care is a very Western twentieth century perspective on how one might define poverty.
Could a new Theory of Relativity be in the making? Perhaps not, but the modern definition of poverty is certainly relative to the current ‘standard of living’ enjoyed by the wealthiest nation on earth.
The poverty thresholds were originally developed in 1963-1964 by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration. She published an analysis of the poverty population using these thresholds in a January 1965 Social Security Bulletin article. Orshansky based her poverty thresholds on the economy food plan — the cheapest of four food plans developed by the Department of Agriculture. The actual combinations of foods in the food plans, devised by Agriculture Department dietitians using complex procedures, constituted nutritionally adequate diets; the Agriculture Department described the economy food plan as being "designed for temporary or emergency use when funds are low."
In April-May 1965, it was decided to set farm poverty thresholds at 70 percent of the corresponding nonfarm thresholds, and to update the thresholds for annual price changes by the yearly change in the per capita cost of the economy food plan. In May 1965 — just over a year after the Johnson Administration had initiated the War on Poverty — the Office of Economic Opportunity adopted Orshansky's poverty thresholds as a working or quasi-official definition of poverty.
Since the inception of “the poverty threshold”, the definition of poor (an arbitrary government measurement) continues to be adjusted upwards. By any reasonable comparison to developing nations, the presumed poor in America have little to complain about. Moreover, the US economy has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the industrialized world. In light of the facts and just a little common sense, one might conclude that “poverty” is more of a political distinction than a literal state of impoverishment.

Update: Warbs the Unrepentant has an excellent piece that juxtaposes private charity and government aid, with respect to solving the problem of poverty.

Healthcare, Canadian style

A hot issue for Democrats and garden variety liberals alike, is healthcare. More specifically, they want a single-payer system in which the government assumes the role of payer. It’s really quite simple. Those that can now afford to purchase insurance will divert payments to the Public Treasury…plus a lot more to cover the cost of others who cannot afford it. That’s right, much higher tax rates that exceed the initial private healthcare costs. After all, we’re in this together, even though we’ve never met and have no relationship beyond a common nationality.

The higher tax burden would certainly be worth it because of the spectacular service that government is known to provide. Without those greedy, profit-chasing HMOs oppressing those in need, free and universal healthcare could heal all the wounds of our deeply divided nation. Take Canada, for example. Our northern neighbors have already established such a progressive system, whereby all receive care, regardless of means. Steve Chapman put it this way:
To critics of the American health care system, Shangri-La is not a fantasy but a shimmering reality, though it goes by another name: Canada. Any debate on health care eventually arrives at the point where one participant says, “We should have what Canadians have. Free care, universal access and low cost — who could ask for more?”
Recently, the Canadian Supreme Court issued a ruling that is rather unfavorable to Canada’s current scheme. The Court declared that it has “serious flaws” and must be “fundamentally changed”. The unconstitutional aspect in question is not unlike that which killed the early Clinton proposal, so called “Hillary Care”.
In some cases, the delay lasts longer than the person enduring it. Or as the Supreme Court put it: “Patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care.”

Not only does the government subject its citizens to painful and even fatal delays in the public system, it bars them from seeking alternatives in the private market. You see, it’s illegal for private insurers to pay for services covered by the public system.
Despite repeated failures (to varying degrees) of collective, egalitarian governance, many still turn a blind eye, insisting instead that the rich enjoy success “on the backs of the poor”. Many actually think that there is a finite amount of wealth in existence that must be equally divided among the world’s inhabitants. Those with this mindset often point to Western Europe and Canada as desirable templates for a “fair” and “socially just” system. This may sound good to the uninformed, but the statistics tell a different story.
Take breast cancer. In Britain, which is famous for its socialized system, close to half of all victims die of the disease, according to a recent Cato Institute study by John Goodman, head of the National Center for Policy Analysis. In Germany and France, almost one-third do. In Canada, the figure is 28 percent — and here, it’s 25 percent. Our mortality rate for prostate cancer is 67 percent lower than Britain’s and 24 percent lower than Canada’s.

The usual story we hear is that the health care system next door provides first-rate care to all, at low cost. The realities — dangerous delays, bloated expenditures and mediocre results — are not so appealing. American liberals may not welcome evidence that the single-payer model works far better in theory than in practice. But for that, they can blame Canada.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A right to broadband?

To say the very least, so called “class warfare” is divisive and a cheap attempt to inflame the passions of people that are envious of those that have achieved a greater amount of success. Such is often couched in terms of “haves and have-nots”. The latest pet-project of egalitarian crusaders is the subject of a piece from AlterNet.
Now the battle to close the digital divide has spilled onto another front--the fight for free municipal broadband services. After last year's Supreme Court ruling that states can bar "cities from offering high-speed Internet services," lobbyists from the telecommunications industry swarmed on state capitals with one singular purpose: "to take cities out of the broadband business by state dictum."
What they fail to realize (or fail to admit) is that municipal does not mean free. No, municipal in this case means tax subsidized high-speed internet service. Or more specifically, Peter paying the bill so Paul can enjoy internet access…whether Peter consents or not. In fact, Peter is greedy for insisting that he keep more of his own money and evil for suggesting that Paul pay for his own DSL, or do without until he can afford it. The article goes on to further confuse the issue by casting local governments as disenfranchised.
Desperate to maintain their monopoly, telecom giants have "done their best to demonize" municipal broadband projects, launching "an aggressive lobbying and misinformation campaign."
Brilliant! Take a page out of the Clinton playbook, which is of course, blame your opponents for the self-same tactics that you are guilty of yourself. That’s right, municipalities aren’t monopolies that are sustained by misinformation, its private industry. File this under: Arkansas ocean-front property for sale.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Consciousness: the new test for viability

Finally, the highly publicized ethical and moral question that divided the nation, as well as the blogosphere, has been answered.
LARGO, Fla. - An autopsy on Terri Schiavo backed her husband's contention that she was in a persistent vegetative state, finding that she had massive and irreversible brain damage and was blind, the medical examiner's office said Wednesday. It also found no evidence that she was strangled or otherwise abused.
"The brain weighed 615 grams, roughly half of the expected weight of a human brain," he said. "This damage was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons."
If not resolved in the minds of those fighting for Terri’s “life”, there is at least a modicum of vindication for the proponents of the right to die. The medical examiner's report confirmed that Mrs. Schiavo was not cognizant and technically deceased, but for living tissue. Furthermore, the various judgments in favor of Mr. Schiavo were consistent with prior court rulings in matters that concern the termination of “life”. Rowe v. Wade considered the viability aspect of a fetus in 1973.
(c) For the stage subsequent to viability the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother. Pp. 163-164; 164-165.
Our task, of course, is to resolve the issue by constitutional measurement, free of emotion and of predilection. We seek earnestly to do this, and, because we do, we have inquired into, and in this opinion place some emphasis upon, medical and medical-legal history and what that history reveals about man's attitudes toward the abortion procedure over the centuries. We bear in mind, too, Mr. Justice Holmes' admonition in his now-vindicated dissent in Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, 76 (1905):

"[The Constitution] is made for people of fundamentally differing views, and the accident of our finding certain opinions natural and familiar or novel and even shocking ought not to conclude our judgment upon the question whether statutes embodying them conflict with the Constitution of the United States."
Those that seek to re-criminalize abortion typically disregard matters of cognition when assigning personhood to the unborn, as is the thinking with respect to euthanasia for the brain dead and profoundly brain damaged. In these emotionally charged issues, there is invariably a religious component to the moral underpinnings of such a position.

It is with strong religious conviction in mind that the The First Amendment, with its prominent placement in the Bill of Rights, ensures that the State is bound by a secular mandate. This, among other things, provides for scientific advancement, unencumbered by irrational superstition and myth. So, in the interest of new discoveries, Slate examines the ever elusive topic of consciousness in a recent article.
Sometime in the next decade or so, neuroscientists will likely identify the specific neural networks and activity that generate the vague but vital thing we call consciousness. Delineating the infrastructure of awareness is biology's most difficult problem, but a leading researcher like Chrisstov Kotch, Gerald Edelman, or Stanislas Dehaene could soon solve it. Science will then possess what might be called a "consciometer"—a set of tests (probably an advanced version of a brain scan or EEG) that can measure consciousness the way kidney or lung function is now measured.
An objective measure of consciousness would do much in the way of quantifying life. In addition to reducing the level of ambiguity surrounding abortion and euthanasia, the stem cell debate might well be less rancorous. Regardless, in the final analysis, those that contend that “life begins at conception” must simply be content to hold that view personally, because their contention only has significance in a religious or theological context, not in the realm of objective secular science.
But now, scientists are getting a better grip on consciousness even as viability is becoming mushier, moving up in the second trimester as medical improvements keep alive ever-younger premature babies. This volatility (and the health problems of tiny preemies) makes viability less attractive as a legal marker. The consciometer, on the other hand, will offer firmer, more stable physiological criteria to determine the start of morally significant human life—the clear dividing line that courts have long sought.
…current neurology suggests that a fetus doesn't possess enough neural structure to harbor consciousness until about 26 weeks, when it first seems to react to pain. Before that, the fetal neural structure is about as sophisticated as that of a sea slug and its EEG as flat and unorganized as that of someone brain-dead.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Who knew...?

Greg Newburn, of Liberteaser, recently published the results of an informal study that juxtaposed modern libertarianism, or classical liberalism, and the Nation of Islam. His findings are as follows:

1. Both libertarians and the Nation of Islam believe in free market capitalism.

2. Both believe that there is only one God, Allah, and Mohammad is his prophet.

3. Both believe in the divinity of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

4. Neither eats pork.

5. Both believe that incentives matter, and that private property is preferable to socialism.

6. Both believe that the price system is a wonderful tool for the communication of dispersed knowledge.

7. Both believe in black nationalism, and the complete separation of the races.

8. Both believe that peace and voluntarism are better than war and coercion.

9. Both believe that black people are a nation within a nation, and that modern blacks should separate themselves from their slave pasts by using "X" in the place of their slave-master surname.

10. Both believe blacks are genetically superior to whites.

11. Both believe in free trade.

12. Both believe in the ”motherplane”

13. Both believe that social security ought to be privatized.

There are others, obviously, but these are the main similarities.
In light of this stunning revelation, one can only surmise that those who don’t find this funny lack a normal sense of humor.

Monday, June 13, 2005

I'm pro-choice

Responding to an Asymmetrical Information piece, Half Sigma suggests that too much choice in the market place is a net negative.
If one toothpaste company decided to go with only one type of toothpaste, it would surely suffer a loss of shelf space and a corresponding loss of sales. So every toothpaste company is forced to compete in the marketing game, to the overall detriment of the consumer who is faced with too many choices and higher prices for toothpaste. (Prices are higher because marketing costs are passed on to the consumer.)
Well, no, competition does not cause higher consumer prices, unless elementary economic principles have completely changed recently. Economics aside, the concept of choice is foundational to individual liberty. The freedom to choose from among various subjective options is the stuff of individual identity.

The alternative is not the elimination of choice, but rather ceding choice to another entity. The question is: who will make decisions for those that refuse to choose? Typically, the grand deciders tend to be those that crave power over others. Such authority manifests itself in government, religion, political parties and trade unions, to name the worst offenders. In such hierarchical organizations, individualism suffers, ostensibly so that the group may thrive. This, of course, purports to benefit all members in equal measure. The reality, however, is that those who exercise choice on behalf of others do so in accordance with their own self interest in mind, irrespective of how the intended beneficiaries are affected. Therefore, those that ‘outsource’ the power of choice do so to their detriment.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

--C.S. Lewis

Saturday, June 11, 2005

modern music

For those that don’t buy into ‘celebrity hierarchy’, especially in the realm of popular music, here's a bit of pedantic parody.

via: Hit & Run

Perpetuating Poverty

Samizdata weighs in on African debt forgiveness with: rewarding vice and punishing virtue by stating that ”The decision to write off billions of dollars in debt for various third world nations is in effect a subsidy for bad governance.” From a June 11, 2005 Reuters article:
The deal struck by finance ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations is part of a British-led campaign to rid sub-Saharan Africa of poverty and diseases that kill millions every year.

Details were not immediately available on the size of a deal that was expected to cover more than $40 billion in debt.
What is conspicuous by its absence is any mention of mandatory reforms on the part of the African nations that will have their debt erased. The obvious question is: what incentive do these corrupt, or at least inept governments have to be fiscally responsible, thereby curtailing future economic stagnation and mitigating chronic poverty? Alas, it appears that the ‘good feelings’ which result from state-sponsored charity matters more than actual help where the third world is concerned. Or is it just Africa?

The American government has had no qualms about maintaining a trade embargo on Cuba for more than forty years, along with similarly cool relations with North Korea. The reason is the same in both cases: corrupt regimes, hostile to the US, ensure the poverty of their people with backward, irrational social policies. If those two despots would simply institute political reforms and begin to respect individual liberty, they would be able to join the modern world and enjoy the benefits of global trade instead of relying upon meager hand-outs from sympathetic allies. Speaking of which, ‘pop stars’ are perennial advocates of the poor, while ignoring the underlying causes, especially in Cuba and Africa. The main impediment to a ready solution for such dire straights is a modicum of reason and logic. Sadly, such common sense is rare in the celebrity set. The lead singer of Coldplay, Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow, displayed his economic acumen in a recent interview.
EMI Group, the world's third-largest music company and owner of Coldplay's label Capitol, warned in February that profits would be lower because the band took longer than expected to finish its first studio album in three years.
But lead singer and charismatic frontman Chris Martin said in an interview, "I don't really care about EMI. I'm not really concerned about that.

"I think shareholders are the great evil of this modern world," Martin told Reuters before Tuesday's concert at Manhattan's Beacon Theater.
Still, for all the corporate involvement in the band of four friends who met in college, Martin said it was all worth it since it gives them artistic freedom and the ability to talk about subjects dear to them such as fair trade, or paying fair prices for products such as coffee and cotton from developing nations.

On Monday, the band recorded an episode of VH1's "Storytellers" and told the audience there, "Deadlines mean nothing to us. We'll sink the whole company (EMI) if we have to," Billboard reported.
Substituting emotionalism for reason has become a hallmark of modern liberalism, the effects of which are scarcely felt by wealthy celebs and like-minded politicians. Rather, it’s the poor and uneducated that are more likely suffer after voting for candidates that demonize capitalism as a tool used by the rich to perpetuate poverty while padding their pockets. The fact is that demagogic rhetoric is advantageous when your constituents crave instant gratification and expect unearned entitlements. Why teach the hungry to fish when others have already labored to catch a boatload that is rife for redistribution?

Update: Catallarchy contributor, Randall McElroy, has a great post that succinctly addresses the issue of African debt cancellation.

Happy Anti-versary!

Today is the first day, of the second year, of the rest of my life. That’s right, today is my anti-versary. On the authority of Superior Court Judge Pascal L. English Jr., it was ordered and adjudged, on the 11th day of June, 2004, that the marriage of she and me “is hereby dissolved”…and we shall live happily ever after…in separate residences.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


The most recent Supreme Court ruling…you know the one…certainly dealt a body-blow to the cause of freedom in many respects. But since there are already several well reasoned rants from a ‘libertarian’ perspective on the matter, I’ll argue from the ‘rule of law’ point of view, in that I tend to favor congressional repeal, rather than ‘judicial activism’, even when I agree with the result of said activism. This is not to be confused with legitimately ruling a law to be unconstitutional, which I don’t think was warranted in this case because of the nature of current ‘drug’ law. Here’s a bit from William F. Buckley Jr.’s latest article:
What is depressing is the dim prospect of remedial congressional action. Individual congressmen shun the idea of licensing any use of marijuana, unless they can find a way to say that marijuana eliminates income disparity. But in search of political consensus on the matter, there is nothing clearer than the vote of the legislatures of the ten states that authorized medical marijuana. They did so and survived political vicissitudes. If these ten states can take a progressive position on medical marijuana why can't Congress do as much?
Why indeed! Well, it’s because of a populous that can’t see fit to mind its own damn business. In an attempt to sanitize modern culture, moral crusaders cause actual harm in an attempt to eradicate perceived evil.
But if a federal prosecutor is bent on practicing his profession, he is in a position to establish that the doctor whose name the scofflaw is citing as having prescribed marijuana — didn't really do so, or did so in such ambiguous terms as to persuade the jury that the marijuana user is in contempt of the law. On this front, the permissivists have an eloquent martyr, the late Peter McWilliams who ardently championed looser laws, who himself depended on marijuana for relief from the nausea caused by AIDS — and who died during a period when he was under court scrutiny, pending sentencing, and had to do without the drug.

Taking marijuana when young is a stupid thing to do, but the young generation is not (yet) suffering from cancer and AIDS and other diseases from the ravages of which they might find relief, if they can dance through the congestion of laws and opinions that beset us.

one more once

Once again, I’m continuing in the vein of ‘social structure’. Why?...because I thinks it’s beneficial to debate things that affect everyone collectively, but more so, the daily life of the individual in such a profound manor. Speaking of which, the latest offering from Knappster adds more fuel to the fire of individual liberty. This is good. Seeking ways to maximize freedom is of utmost importance and the responsibility of those who cherish it. That said, I guess its now my move.

Tom mentions an essay by L. Neil Smith (which is quite good) that proposes ”Unanimous Consent” or “Hyperdemocracy” as an alternative to majoritarian government. Essentially, such a ‘societal framework’ relies wholly upon trust, good will and the highest libertarian ideals of individualism, free enterprise and non-aggression, which is all anyone ought to expect from a community of free people.
It wasn't my aim to create another faction in the struggle for liberty, but to eradicate the causes of factionalism. Without compromising anything I personally believe, I wrote the Covenant for natural rightists and non-natural rightists, religious libertarians and the non-religious, anarchists and non-anarchists – since the former can assume, accurately, that it's a first step toward abolishing government, whereas the latter can see, with the same degree of accuracy, an explicit contract establishing the systematic, non-coercive order they desire. Under the terms of the Covenant, they amount to the same thing.

Whenever there's an election coming, especially a referendum, especially on taxes, which are not only a monkey wrench in the machinery of civilization – rent we're forced to pay on our own lives – but the very fuel of war itself, try suggesting – try demanding – of local Democrats and Republicans that it be settled in the only decent, moral, civilized way, by Unanimous Consent.
What freedom loving individual could find fault with that? Of course, the operative phrase is ‘freedom loving’. If I were to crudely divide all of mankind into three groups, generally and for the sake of argument, they would be Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians. The first two have a vested interest in the state, whether to regularize wealth distribution or mandate conformity to a particular moral code and a patriotic ideal, respectively. Conversely, the latter, for the most part, wants none or very little of it. Moreover, ‘Libertarians’ are inordinately fractious, given the tendency toward individualism. The task of convincing the vast majority to cater to a splintered minority seems unlikely, if not impossible. As it stands, all parties appear to be amenable to an equally applied rule of law that acknowledges individual rights…in theory, anyway.

Tom also linked to David Friedman, who has some very good ideas pertaining to ‘market anarchy’. I’ll respond in kind with a link to David’s son, Patri Friedman, a self-described ‘anarcho-capitalist’. Patri’s piece stems from a passage in Stephen Pinker’s book entitled The Blank Slate. The short of it is that on the morning of “October 17, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike…” looters and thugs did what they do best. As for a solution to such a mess, Patri argues that “We simply believe that these things can be provided better in a competitive market than by a monopoly” (‘these things’ being police/security force). He concluded that:
There are many directions the world can go when the state disappears. Not all of them are good. Some of them are downright terrible. Some, we suspect, are quite wonderful. Although I find stable anarchy appealing, that does not mean I am in a hurry to descend into chaotic anarchy. It is important for market anarchists to remember that not all transitions away from the state are good - and for everyone else to see that not all transitions away from the state are bad.
The crux of my argument against eliminating the state and replacing it with competing armed forces and courts is the seeming lack of a standard to which all are consensually bound. It is true, as Tom noted in a comment on a prior post, that the military forces of various countries are constantly warring and threatening one another in a competitive fashion. It is also true that one nation does not recognize the laws or jurisdiction of the other, unless one considers ‘international law’ and the UN as sufficient cooperation…which I do not. Ostensibly, people form governments and alliances for the purposes of self preservation and prosperity, via collective defense and relative stability to facilitate markets. The type of rules-based ‘market anarchy’ that I reject would do little more than create several smaller quasi-states that further endanger the very liberties anarchy portends to secure.

Whether societal rules are codified by a state or simply informal agreements pertaining to pluralistic living, all individuals act according to their own self interest, rational or otherwise. People already do as they please, as if there were no laws, so I don’t expect any state to prevent all force and fraud. However, the flaws of a minimalist state notwithstanding, there is an invaluable psychology intrinsic to government. The uncivilized brute that ignores the rights of others routinely, is theoretically detoured, in part, by essential criminal statutes that mandate punishment…including the forfeiture of liberty. Those of us that bristle at ‘state imposed laws’ are more likely to be able to live peaceably without them.

The problem arises when the laws become excessive, but such is distinct from the mere existence of a legal code. When the state grows too large, it should be pruned back, because its elimination would pave the way for the growth of yet more factions that, in time, would repeat the cycle. History and common sense suggest that the rule of law is the best way to enjoy the most liberty in an ever increasing and diverse community. I say this in light of the fact that the ills of the state are perpetrated by individuals that are predisposed to such immorality. The abolition of the state does nothing to eradicate those that are actually responsible for the evil that is attributed to government. The same is applicable to the ‘gun issue’, in that people of low character are the ultimate cause of the negatives at the center of this discussion.

Monday, June 06, 2005

radical or conservative

My lasts few posts, and certainly the comments to each, have prompted me to reexamine the nuances of my political philosophy. To my surprise, I seemed to be arguing from the ‘conservative’ point of view. Not the modern, partisan, right-wing, religious-moralist sense of the word. Rather, my view appears to be conservative relative to a more radical ideal that seeks the swift elimination of the state. In a provocative essay, Murray Rothbard asks: Do You Hate the State?
And that is why the radical libertarian is not only an abolitionist, but also refuses to think in such terms as a Four Year Plan for some sort of stately and measured procedure for reducing the State. The radical – whether he be anarchist or laissez-faire – cannot think in such terms as, e.g.: Well, the first year, we’ll cut the income tax by 2%, abolish the ICC, and cut the minimum wage; the second year we’ll abolish the minimum wage, cut the income tax by another 2%, and reduce welfare payments by 3%, etc. The radical cannot think in such terms, because the radical regards the State as our mortal enemy, which must be hacked away at wherever and whenever we can. To the radical libertarian, we must take any and every opportunity to chop away at the State, whether it’s to reduce or abolish a tax, a budget appropriation, or a regulatory power. And the radical libertarian is insatiable in this appetite until the State has been abolished, or – for minarchists – dwindled down to a tiny, laissez-faire role.
In the context of the previous text, I would classify myself as a “radical conservative”, or more specifically, a “pragmatic minarchist”. While I have a great deal of respect for ‘abolitionists’ and have no use for a bloated, overbearing state, I think that anarchists fail to articulate a feasible alternative.

Suppose that a majority of Americans, acting against type, decided that the state had outlived its usefulness. Further, suppose that all elected officials, also acting contrary to their nature, freely relinquished power, thereby dissolving the government. The country would then be populated by fully emancipated individuals, in addition to all of the newly released convicts from each and every prison and jail in the land. And they all lived happily ever after?

Presumably, anarcho-capitalists and left-anarchists alike envision some mechanism by which to segregate ‘bad actors’ from the general population. The question becomes: who defines what is ‘bad’ and who decides who will decide and so on? Who or what is to be the final arbiter of inter-personal disputes? Is one to assume that no faction would ever assert control and devise various regulations that favor a sub-set to the detriment of others? Admittedly, the US government is guilty of much of this, but to a lesser degree than many other countries. The reality is that states invariably arise to fill a power vacuum…it’s better to suffer the devil we know…

I am by no means a ‘statist’, at least not in the way that an overwhelming majority of the world is presently. No, I don’t need government to solve my problems, recognize my morals, define my rights or sustain my life. The only state that I support, albeit reluctantly, is an impartial referee to ‘call foul’ only when the natural rights of an individual have been infringed by another. Such an entity is a far cry from the insatiable beast that currently exists, whose reach extends to everyone and shows no signs of retreat. Nevertheless, a vast reduction of the size and scope of government is preferable to the outright disintegration of the state.

another fine blog

To liberty minded individuals, I suggest strolling over to Old Whig’s Brain Dump, which is well worth reading. The byline reads as follows:
...the people of this country, at the revolution, having all power in their own hands... took care to secure themselves, by bills of rights, so as to prevent as far as possible the encroachments of their future rulers upon the rights of the people. An Old Whig - Anti-Federalist 18-20
Beyond that, he was good enough to link to me. So by all means, go broaden your horizons.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

I've been taken to task...again

In response to this post and tangentially, this one, Tom Knapp, of Knappster, shot back with some good counterpoints.
What seems to be missing in Bell's acceptance of the state as a tool for creating and maintaining "objective standards" and "rule of law" (or commenter probligo's "'standards' that govern the fabric by which the society survives") is recognition of the fact that placing the power to set said standards and rules into the hands of an organization with a monopoly on the use of force is inherently subversive of the objectivity Bell craves. The state does not have to prove its standards and rules against the reality in which they are supposed to operate; if they don't work, too bad: We've got the guns, we've said what to do and how to do it, now drill, ye tarriers, drill.
I agree completely that a ‘monopoly on the use of force’ can be, and often is, detrimental to the individual. History is littered with the bodies of innocents that were slaughtered by murderous regimes. I would disagree, however, with the implication that all states are uniformly brutal. I reject the notion that the existence of a state is wholly incompatible with individual liberty.

Furthermore, Knapp’s statement: “The state does not have to prove its standards and rules against the reality in which they are supposed to operate; if they don't work, too bad: We've got the guns, we've said what to do and how to do it, now drill, ye tarriers, drill.”—presupposes the absence, or simply ignores the existence of a constitution. The American experiment, ‘self rule’, is predicated on the principle that the government is directly answerable to the citizenry and bound by the constraints of the US Constitution. The government’s current configuration and relationship to the people may well not reflect the Founders’ intent, but I submit that such is the failing of generations of complacent voters and the architects of a welfare state.
Since the state is obviously not the only entity capable of developing standards and codes (as a matter of fact, many of its standards and codes are borrowed from their original developers -- ethical philosophers, religious movements and, in some specific cases, scientific researchers), it takes more than an assertion (even a proven assertion) that codes and standards are necessary to justify vesting a monopoly on the enforcement of said standards and codes in the state. What it takes is proof -- or at least strong evidence -- that the state is, and even as a monopoly will remain, the best enforcer of the best codes, or at least that vesting that power in the state will produce, on balance, better results than either vesting it in some other entity or simply standing aside and letting competition settle the matter.
This line of reasoning seems to be all or nothing…totalitarian state or absolute liberty. The state, theoretically a neutral arbiter, must necessarily have a monopoly on force so that the social contract might be objectively enforced. Competition is, ideally, provided for in the form of free, fair and regular elections. That said, I would argue that competing armed forces would, in short order, devolve into civil war because ‘might would make right’ in territorial disputes and the like. Resolution of such conflicts almost invariably ends with the victor subjugating the conquered. In the American Civil War, it was the rule of law, enumerated in the Constitution, that precluded many (but not all) of the negative consequences of post war reconstruction.

Another thing to consider, are the choices that have heretofore been made by people when given the opportunity. In the course of a century, certainly since the economic depression of the 1930s, voters have increasingly traded more and more of their (and their neighbor’s) liberty for security and government largesse. Presumably, these same individuals would act similarly in the absence of a state and indeed the absence of a binding social contract. Essentially, I think that an ‘organic’ anarchic society would suffer from the same perils as pure democracy, given that anti-social barbarians are liberally distributed in all cultures and communities. Both schemes require a higher degree of ethical and moral underpinnings than has been displayed by any population in history, generally speaking. The minority of individuals that could actually pull off literal self rule have always been grossly outnumbered. Sadly, I believe that Galt’s Gulch is the epitome of the utopian dream.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Citizen Soldier

A monumental failure of local television news coverage can be summed up with the phrase: “if it bleeds, it leads”. Such egregious hyperbole adds fuel to the fire of the irrational fear of guns. It suggests that only crazed outlaws would ever think of owning a weapon. Another diversionary tactic of late is to couch ‘legitimate’ gun ownership in terms of licensed hunting. In an age of knee-jerk hysteria with respect to firearms, a little perspective is warranted.
Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms.

Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it. Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors. James Madison's Federalist No.46
The Second Amendment is integral to the preservation of individual liberty; whether it is for the recreation of hunting or for the very act of self preservation. The right to keep and bear arms is as inalienable as any other natural right. Indeed, a well armed populous is the original deterrent.

There are undoubtedly those that scoff at such a notion because of the overwhelming size and force of the US military. I would remind them that the American armed forces are comprised of citizens that have sworn to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The presumption is that the soldier is a citizen first and warrior second…one that fights to protect individuals, not an oppressive government.

Friday, June 03, 2005

balanced regulation

On this date in history, Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, was born.
At least, we think it is. His birth was registered on 5 June 1723, so it's likely to have been a couple of days earlier. He was raised in Fife, Scotland, by his widowed mother, to whom he remained devoted. He never married, and after his mother died, an unmarried cousin looked after him: he was so steeped in the world of ideas that someone had to.
The Adam Smith Institute also has a blog that focuses on various issues that pertain to ‘free markets and free societies’. The category of posts entitled Regulation is particularly insightful. In a recent post by Dr Madsen Pirie, Not all regulations are equal, a common sense solution to irrational regulation is suggested.
Our civil servants famously insist on enforcing all regulations. We gold-plate directives from the EU, so they affect us more than other member states.

It is obvious, nonetheless, that some regulations matter more than others. It might cause concern to have 5,000 gallon fuel containers stored next to primary schools, but the risk caused to us by someone selling cheese by the pound instead of the kilo is minimal.

As a first step to sensible regulation we should grade all regulations. The ones which put life and limb at risk should be designated as grade-1, whereas those which hardly affect anyone should be given grade-5.
More often than not, libertarians are accused of advocating the complete elimination of regulation. This may be true of some, but the majority of pro-capitalism, limited government types recognize the need for objective standards, a rule of law, by which all are governed in equal measure. It’s when there are no rules that the weak are exploited by the strong. More importantly, without universal standards in a particular society, competition, productivity, efficiency and wealth creation are virtually impossible.

The problem of regulation, that free marketeers lament, arises when politicians pander to various constituencies whose agenda is thwarted by unencumbered capitalism; whether it’s left-wing environmentalists that protest development or right-wing corporate boards that fear increased competition from innovative new comers. In short, excessive regulations have become a tool of special interest groups, used to preserve the status quo and/or to further their goals. The same can be said of all manor of moralistic legislation as well. I’m not opposed to limited rules and regulations…it’s just those of a ‘social engineering’ sort that I detest, regardless of the political bent.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

competing views of freedom

Tom Knapp, of Knappster, has a new essay at Strike the Root in which he poses the question: what, precisely, is freedom?
Is it a state of being with quantifiable characteristics? Or is it just an absence – the absence of coercion, the absence of arbitrary, external controls and so forth?

This may seem like a trick or trite question, but it's not intended to be. The answer to it sets the parameters of, creates the context for, and determines the focus of, the struggles to which freedom's advocates dedicate their lives, fortunes and sacred honors (or any portion thereof).
As is demonstrated in eloquent diversity, the ‘blogosphere’ is anything but monolithic. This is not to say that there aren’t clusters of ideological categories. There are categories and subcategories of thought. Even still, one would think that a uniform definition of freedom could be agreed upon. It’s really tragic that such a concept, one that is intrinsic to humanity, could be so amorphous.
For any movement to proceed toward accomplishing its goals, there must be some sort of general agreement on what those goals are. In the absence of such an agreement – and I'm not necessarily talking about a formal instrument or contract, but rather a shared understanding – only single-issue, range-of-the-moment alliances are possible or productive.

A common delusion – which I confess to sharing in for many years – is that any individual or group which, as part of a larger vision, seeks to reduce the power of the state (to elimination or to some point short of elimination) is a natural ally of all other such individuals or groups, right up to the point at which state power has been reduced to a level satisfactory to that individual or group.
Perhaps that’s correct; those of all stripes who fall outside of the ‘main-stream’ of political discourse simply can’t or won’t succumb to the art of compromise. The danger though, is that those who do, for the most part, are less concerned with freedom than security. The typical citizen picks a team and defers to that team’s leadership. To make it even more mindless, the teams have geographical and color-coded distinctions. Those that deign to independently weigh the issues, or God forbid disagree with both of the mammoth parties, are branded with all manor of unsavory labels. The entrenched politicos would have it no other way.

So, what’s the solution? There’s an old saying about the best way to eat an elephant (or donkey)…one bite at a time. Another way to look at it is how Michael Angelo described his sculptural technique. He is said to have envisioned the final product while examining the rough block of marble. Then he proceeded to chisel away everything that was not a part of the finished piece. I believe that freedom is attainable, but not without constant advocacy.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

don't ask, don't tell

As a civilian, I’m a bit reluctant to criticize the military in war-time. Nevertheless, bad policy is bad policy. The mandatory discrimination of homosexuals in the US armed services is anachronistic at best. Especially in light of the fact that even Georgia finally repealed its archaic ‘sodomy laws’. To put a face on this foolishness, check out this article from the Army Times:
“The old armchair thought that gay people destroy unit camaraderie and cohesion is just wrong,” Stout said. “They said the same things when they tried to integrate African-Americans and women into the military.”

Before the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, enacted in 1993 under the Clinton administration, the Pentagon had explicitly barred gays from military service. At least 24 countries, including Great Britain, Germany, France, Australia, Canada and Israel, allow gays to serve openly.
Sgt. Robert Stout, 23, not only served in Iraq with distinction, but received a Purple Heart for the wounds he sustained. He has certainly proven his ability and worth in combat, so what’s the problem?
The issue of whether gays should be allowed to openly serve in the military has received increased attention in recent months as the Army has struggled to meet its recruiting goals. Twelve gays expelled from the military sued the government in December, citing a Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional state laws against homosexual sex.

The Bush administration has asked a federal court to dismiss the lawsuit.
Bush is on a roll lately…he seems to be opposing progress at every turn. First stem cell research and now denying a soldier his day in court. All in an attempt to preserve the status quo of American culture, circa 1950.
A recent congressional study on the impact of “don’t ask, don’t tell” said that hundreds of highly skilled troops, including many translators, have left the armed forces because of the rule, at a cost of nearly $200 million, mostly for recruiting and training replacements for 9,500 troops discharged between 1994 and 2003.

Gary Gates, a statistician at the University of California at Los Angeles, estimates there are about 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serving in the military, accounting for about 2.8 percent of all personnel. He estimates that at least 25 gay soldiers have been killed in Iraq.
Maybe it’s me, but I just don’t understand why ‘sexual orientation’ matters, when these folks are willing and able to offer their service to this country. It really can’t be ‘inappropriate’ sexual contact, or they would not have allowed females to serve in Iraq and elsewhere. Besides, aren’t all soldiers and officers held to the same high standard of conduct? This looks like another irrational regulation that’s born of emotion rather than reason. Oh, by the way, Sgt. Stout was recently discharged from the Army.

via the one-trick pony: Andrew Sullivan

creative sentencing

In keeping with the theme of ‘illicit drugs’ and related weirdness, Reason’s HIT & RUN mentions a Boston Globe article that reports on a bit of colorful ‘judicial activism’. Here’s the short piece in its entirety:
LONDON, Ky. -- A Kentucky judge has been offering some drug and alcohol offenders the option of attending worship services instead of going to jail or rehab -- a practice some say violates the separation of church and state.

District Judge Michael Caperton, 50, a devout Christian, said his goal is to "help people and their families."

"I don't think there's a church-state issue, because it's not mandatory and I say worship services instead of church," he said.

Alternative sentencing is popular across the country -- ordering vandals to repaint a graffiti-covered wall, for example. But legal experts said they didn't know of any other judges who give the option of attending church.

Caperton has offered the option about 50 times to repeat drug and alcohol offenders. It is unclear what effect the sentence has had.

David Friedman, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the option raises "serious constitutional problems."

"The judge is saying that those willing to go to worship services can avoid jail in the same way that those who decline to go cannot," Friedman said. "That strays from government neutrality towards religion."
I consider the separation of church and state to be sacrosanct. Also, I happen to think that the archetypal ‘worship service’ is a form of punishment in many ways. Therefore, such a sentence ought to be reserved for those that would not already be predisposed to attend such a meeting.

Seriously though, an officer of the court is on the front lines of interpreting and defending the Constitution. Any and every judge is obliged to be completely neutral with respect to religion. While Judge Michael Caperton does seem to realize that ‘drug offenses’ aren’t worthy of incarceration, I would prefer that he simply rule that such laws are unconstitutional instead of using his position as an occasion to proselytize.