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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Friday, June 29, 2007

Why They Hate Us

What’s more obnoxious than a person who constantly whines about the injustices committed against him while ignoring his own injustices against others?

A country that does the same thing.

The rest of this week's op-ed, "Why They Hate Us," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Last Taxpayer Standing

The popular American folklore that taxpaying citizens are the masters and government the servant might lead one to expect that taxpayers can sue the government when they think it has spent their money in a way that violates their rights. But that's not how the courts see the matter. By and large, taxpayers as such have no standing whatever to sue the government. Maybe the master is the servant and the servant the master.
The rest of this week's TGIF column, "Last Taxpayer Standing," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mind Your Brain

Of these two statements:
  • The mind is the product of the brain; and
  • The brain is the product of the mind
I should think that the second is closer to the truth.

America's Engineer

No president is more despised by opponents of big government than Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His New Deal is singularly blamed for introducing large-scale national economic intervention to the United States. But FDR did not drop from the sky. He emerged in a particular context that was shaped by his predecessors, without whom we might have never heard his name. His immediate predecessor of course was Herbert Hoover, the one-term Republican elected in 1928 who had the misfortune to be in office only several months when the stock market crashed. History has treated Hoover curiously. His enemies see him as the heartless leader who stood by as the population was ravaged by the Great Depression. His admirers see him as the last lion of laissez-faire individualism, valiantly resisting the tide of statism that washed over America in the 1930s.

Both pictures are grotesque distortions of reality driven by political interest.
The rest of last week's TGIF column, "America's Engineer," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Bush's Tyranny Thwarted--For Now

The news media seemed too preoccupied with Paris Hilton’s detention to notice, but a U.S. appeals court last week struck a major blow for liberty. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bush administration may not declare a U.S. resident, whether a citizen or not, an “enemy combatant,” throw him in a military prison, and hold him without charge indefinitely — all without judicial review. Try him in the civilian courts or let him go, the judges said.

This double affirmation of habeas corpus and defendants’ rights is a stunning setback for President Bush’s attempt to assert autocratic powers under cover of his "war on terror."

The rest of my op-ed "Bush's Tyranny Thwarted--For Now" is at the website of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Free Trade Imperialism

Here's something left-libertarians need to attend to: Deepak Lal of UCLA is touting a program of unilateral free trade and unabashed U.S. worldwide empire. His book In Praise of Empires: Globalization and Order seems to be his most complete statement on this.

Here are some quotes from his article "Empire and Order" in the March/April issue of Historically Speaking (apparently not online):
[T]oday there is again an imperial power that has an economic and military predominance unseen since the fall of Rome. The United States is indubitably an empire. It is more than a hegemon, as it seeks control over not only foreign but also aspects of domestic policy in other countries. But it an informal and indirect empire.... It is an empire that has taken over from the British the burden of maintaining a Pax to allow free trade and commerce to flourish. This Pax brings mutual gains. The U.S., like the British in the 19th century, has borne much of the costs of providing this global public good, not because of altruism but because the mutual gains from a global, liberal economic order benefit America and foster its economic well being....

But the American imperium faces disorder in two broad regions of the world: first, the vast region spanning the Islamic world in the Middle East and Central Asia, and second, the continent of Africa. September 11 showed how failed states can provide a safe haven for terrorists who can directly threaten life and property in the American homeland. The maintenance of international order thus means ensuring that there is also domestic order in states that, if they fail, could become terrorist havens....

The United States has created the military structures to project its power, but it has failed to build the complementary imperial administrative structure required to run an empire....

Equally disturbing is the desire of all the participants in U.S. foreign policy to wrap themselves in the Wilsonian mantle. It seems that Americans find it difficult to give up their moral self-image of the shining city on the hill....

The major problem for the U.S. imperium is to keep its moralists at home.... But for the near future, despite its faults, the American imperium is here to stay. And it remains our best hope to maintain global order, as the British did in the 19th century.
In other words, if we want order, it's time America took off the gloves. No more Mr. Nice Guy, world.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Good Sense on Immigration

Immigration wisdom from Jeff Jacoby:
For most illegal immigrants, a legal option simply doesn't exist. Under current law, a young Mexican or Salvadoran who wants to improve his life by moving to America and working hard at a useful job generally has just two options: (a) Enter illegally, or (b) stay out forever. Several hundred thousand a year choose option (a).

To Representative [Steve] King and those who think the way he does -- the Pat Buchanans, the Lou Dobbses, the conservative talk-show hosts and their riled listeners -- the illegal entry is all that matters. They don't ask whether it makes sense to bar industrious and productive go-getters who value America as a land of opportunity and who supply labor for which there is a yawning demand. As far as they're concerned, illegal aliens are "immigration criminals," and the only issue on the agenda is how to keep them out....

But something is not wrong -- intrinsically wrong, bad in and of itself -- merely because it is illegal. It is against the law to put anything without postage into someone's mailbox.

If your neighbor prints flyers advertising a yard sale and drops one into each letterbox on the street, he has broken the law, but would anyone say he has done something evil?

Someone who crosses the border without a visa in order to find work doesn't deserve to be branded a "criminal." Doing so only inflames and confuses an issue that is contentious enough as it is. And it cheapens a word that should be reserved for those who purposely harm others through genuinely wrongful behavior: embezzlers, rapists, arsonists, murderers.

The demonizing of illegal aliens keeps us from having a rational discussion about US immigration policy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Why Did They Attack?

Comedian David Cross's take on Ron Paul, Rudolph Giuliani, and bin Laden's reason for the 9/11 attacks.

Hat tip: Ben Richman

Monday, June 18, 2007

Free the New Youth 4!

A new blog has been started with the objective of freeing four young Chinese imprisoned for exercising their natural rights to free speech and assembly. "Free the New Youth 4!" can be found here.

Here's the post explaining the blog:

On May 28, 2003, Jin Haike (靳海科), Xu Wei (徐伟), Yang Zili (杨子立) and Zhang Honghai (张宏海) were sentenced to between eight and ten years for the crime of “subverting state power.” Their charges stemmed from a small, informal discussion group they’d formed and dubbed the “New Youth Study Group” in order to debate ways in which China could further progress and prosper.

The New Youth 4 Coalition seeks to end their unjust imprisonment and return freedom to these four individuals who represent the best of Chinese progressivism and forward thinking.

We hope that through the power of dialogue and communication, the Chinese authorities will correct this grave injustice.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cory Maye Update

The latest from Radley Balko:

Last word on the Cory Maye case came late last summer, when the trial judge threw out Maye's death sentence due to ineffective assistance of counsel, and ordered a new sentencing trial. I heard from Cory's defense team earlier tonight that the DA's office has now said it will no longer pursue the death penalty.

That means Cory will now start his appeals process with the death penalty off the table. That's good news. But he'll still likely be re-sentenced to life in prison. So it's not great news.

Dare We Call It Tyranny?

The American people’s response to President Bush’s “war on terror” should be … terror. The administration, sometimes with Congress’s complicity:

  • is preparing for a 50-year stay in Iraq, complete with 14 military bases and an embassy larger than the Vatican. (Can there be a better recruiting program for al Qaeda?)

  • has abolished habeas corpus, the principle that for centuries has protected people from arbitrary confinement, for noncitizens declared to be “enemy combatants.” (While the federal courts have upheld the abolition of habeas corpus for detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere overseas, fortunately an appellate court has just ruled against the administration in the case of a legal U.S. resident, Kahlah al-Marri, arrested in the United States, a ruling the administration is appealing.)

  • unilaterally claims the power to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” — torture — on suspected terrorists and to turn them over to foreign governments known to torture prisoners. This has been done to persons later cleared of wrongdoing.

  • runs secret CIA prisons in Europe and elsewhere. Thirty-nine persons seized abroad and believed to have been in U.S. custody have disappeared, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

  • violates our privacy by secretly accessing foreign phone calls, e-mails, and financial and other records — approved, if at all, only by a rubber-stamp “court.”

  • conducts searches without notice or judicially issued warrants. The administration’s assurances that it does not engage in misconduct are worth little, considering what has already come to light.

    To hold onto the support of the American people for this dictatorial power, the Bush administration has engaged in its own form of terrorism by exposing domestic “plots” involving small rag-tag groups allegedly bent on, among other things, attacking Fort Dix and blowing up fuel tanks and pipelines near JFK International Airport....

  • The rest of the op-ed "Dare We Call It Tyranny" is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    Habeas Corpus's Fork in the Road

    "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land."
    --Magna Carta, this day, 1215

    May the government declare a U.S. resident an "enemy combatant," throw him in a military prison indefinitely, and never charge him with a crime -- all without judicial review?

    The Bush administration says yes. But in a key ruling (pdf) the other day, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals resoundingly said no. If it withstands further appeal, the decision will be a timely affirmation of the limits of executive power and the constitutional priority of civilian over military rule. Thanks, judges, we needed that.
    The rest of this week's TGIF column, "Habeas Corpus's Fork in the Road," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    George II Thwarted (So Far) on Habeas Corpus

    George II may not arrest a U.S. resident on U.S. soil -- citizen or not -- and hold him in a military brig without charge indefinitely. So says the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an important 2-1 ruling yesterday. We can only hope it will be sustained on further appeal.

    Contrary to the Bush administration's obnoxious autocratic position, Kahlah al-Marri (a married Bradley University student and father in the U.S. but a citizen of Qatar) has the right to file a habeas-corpus petition and the right to have any case against him handled by the civilian criminal justice system. This holds even if, as the administration charges, al-Marri is an al Qaeda "sleeper agent" who has volunteered for a "martyr mission" in the United States.

    Money quote:
    [T]he Government cannot subject al-Marri to indefinite military detention. For in the United States, the military cannot seize and imprison civilians -- let alone imprison them indefinitely. . . . To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the president calls them "enemy combatants," would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution -- and the country. For a court to uphold a claim to such extraordinary power would do more than render lifeless the Suspension [habeas corpus] Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the rights to criminal process in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments; it would effectively undermine all of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. . . . We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.
    The opinion his here (pdf).

    If you're watching cable TV news, you may not know about this case. The channels are too busy covering Paris Hilton's detention. I await the filing of her habeas corpus petition.

    Friday, June 08, 2007

    The U.S.S. Liberty

    My excerpt below on the Six-Day War does not discuss the curious Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, an intelligence ship, on June 8, 1967, about which the U.S. government has been far from forthcoming -- to put it mildly. Yes, the Israeli Defense Force attacked an unarmed U.S. ship while engaged in a preventive war against its Arab neighbors. Thirty-four sailors were killed, 174 injured in the attack. For full details, see Jeffrey St. Clair's article about attack in Counterpunch.

    Here's a taste:
    In early June of 1967, at the onset of the Six Day War, the Pentagon sent the USS Liberty from Spain into international waters off the coast of Gaza to monitor the progress of Israel's attack on the Arab states. The Liberty was a lightly armed surveillance ship.

    Only hours after the Liberty arrived it was spotted by the Israeli military. The IDF sent out reconnaissance planes to identify the ship. They made eight trips over a period of three hours. The Liberty was flying a large US flag and was easily recognizable as an American vessel.

    A few hours later more planes came. These were Israeli Mirage III fighters, armed with rockets and machine guns. As off-duty officers sunbathed on the deck, the fighters opened fire on the defenseless ship with rockets and machine guns.

    A few minutes later a second wave of planes streaked overhead, French-built Mystere jets, which not only pelted the ship with gunfire but also with napalm bomblets, coating the deck with the flaming jelly. By now, the Liberty was on fire and dozens were wounded and killed, excluding several of the ship's top officers.

    ...After the Israeli fighter jets had emptied their arsenal of rockets, three Israeli attack boats approached the Liberty. Two torpedoes were launched at the crippled ship, one tore a 40-foot wide hole in the hull, flooding the lower compartments, and killing more than a dozen American sailors.

    ...Within three weeks, the Navy put out a 700-page report, exonerating the Israelis, claiming the attack had been accidental and that the Israelis had pulled back as soon as they realized their mistake. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara suggested the whole affair should be forgotten. "These errors do occur," McNamara concluded.

    ...The Pentagon lied to the public about the attack on the Liberty from the very beginning. In a decision personally approved by the loathsome McNamara, the Pentagon denied to the press that the Liberty was an intelligence ship, referring to it instead as a Technical Research ship, as if it were little more than a military version of Jacques Cousteau's Calypso.
    Tip hat: Mark Brady.

    Illiberal Means, Illiberal Ends

    The years 1914-1918 must have been lonely for Randolph Bourne. Bourne was a popular writer in Progressive circles, prolifically turning out articles for The New Republic and Seven Arts magazines. But soon the former, along with other publications, lost interest in his writing and the latter ceased operations, leaving Bourne out in the cold. What happened? Bourne bucked his fellow intellectuals, including his mentor John Dewey, and opposed U.S. entry into World War I.
    The rest of this week's TGIF column, "Illiberal Means, Illiberal Ends," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

    Thursday, June 07, 2007

    War Somehow Fastened on Us

    Time brings a better adjustment to the war. There had been so many times when, to those who had energetically resisted its coming, it seemed the last intolerable outrage. In one's wilder moments one expected revolt against the impressment of unwilling men and the suppression of unorthodox opinion. One conceived the war as breaking down through a kind of intellectual sabotage diffused through the country. But as one talks to people outside the cities and away from ruling currents of opinion, one finds the prevailing apathy shot everywhere with acquiescence. The war is a bad business, which somehow got fastened on us. They won't want to go, but they've got to go. One decides that nothing generally obstructive is going to happen and that it would make little difference if it did. The kind of war which we are conducting is an enterprise which the American government does not have to carry on with the hearty cooperation of the American people but only with their acquiescence. And that acquiescence seems sufficient to float an indefinitely protracted war for vague or even largely uncomprehended and unaccepted purposes. Our resources in men and materials are vast enough to organize the war-technique without enlisting more than a fraction of the people's conscious energy. Many men will not like being sucked into the actual fighting organism, but as the war goes on they will be sucked in as individuals and they will yield. There is likely to be no element in the country with the effective will to help them resist. They are not likely to resist of themselves concertedly. They will be licked grudgingly into military shape, and their lack of enthusiasm will in no way unfit them for use in the hecatombs necessary for the military decision upon which Allied political wisdom still apparently insists. It is unlikely that enough men will be taken from the potentially revolting classes seriously to embitter their spirit. Losses in the well-to-do classes will be sustained by a sense of duty and of reputable sacrifice. From the point of view of the worker, it will make little difference whether his work contributes to annihilation overseas or to construction at home. Temporarily, his condition is better if it contributes to the former. We of the middle classes will be progressively poorer than we should otherwise have been. Our lives will be slowly drained by clumsily levied taxes and the robberies of imperfectly controlled private enterprises. But this will not cause us to revolt. There are not likely to be enough hungry stomachs to make a revolution. The materials seem generally absent from the country, and as long as a government wants to use the war-technique in its realization of great ideas, it can count serenely on the human resources of the country, regardless of popular mandate or understanding.

    The Six-Day War

    Excerpted from my "'Ancient History':U.S. Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Folly of Intervention," published by the Cato Institute August 16, 1991. (See full paper for references.)

    The Libertarian Event of the Season

    The Future of Freedom Foundation scored big with its long-weekend conference on foreign policy and civil liberties in Reston, Va. I enjoyed every moment of it, and would like to publicly congratulate FFF President Jacob Hornberger for putting together such a magnificent program. Imagine a single gathering with Robert Higgs and Daniel Ellsberg; Ron Paul and Robert Scheer; Andrew Napolitano and Joanne Mariner; and many, many more. It was a shot in the arm for both the libertarian movement and the antiwar movement.

    Keith Preston has written a good detailed summary of the speeches here.

    Wednesday, June 06, 2007

    A Democracy of Dunces?

    When pro-free-market critics of democracy explain why laissez faire is not a winning election issue, they usually say that voters have a no incentive to research economic policy because one vote won't sway the election and the expected payoff to any individual voter is infinitesimal. So they, quite rationally, vote on other bases. This "rational ignorance" leaves space for special interests to have their way, despite the fact that if the voters paid attention to what was going on, they wouldn't put up with it.

    That explanation leads to the conclusion that democracy does not work because outcomes diverge from what people really want but are powerless to obtain. On the other hand, fans of democracy think that the rejection of laissez faire shows the system is working just fine. But both sides agree that voters are rational (employing reason) under the circumstances.

    Which story is true? Maybe neither.

    Bryan Caplan's new book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, which is beginning to make a splash (see this New York Times Magazine article), offers another reason why consistent pro-market policies don't do well....

    The rest of my latest TGIF column, "A Democracy of Dunces?" is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

    P.S.: I've been delinquent in posting because I spent the last several days near Washington, D.C., at the Future of Freedom Foundation foreign policy and civil liberties conference. It was a huge success and will clearly be the major libertarian -- and antiwar -- event of the year. An account of the conference is on Counterpunch here.