Category Archives: Current Events

California Times Six

I live in California. It’s a great state. Too great.

A proposition to split California into six states may be on the ballot in 2016. “Six Californias” has announced that it has collected sufficient signatures. Why six? California’s population of over 38 million is six times lager than the US state average. The ruling powers may find a way to block the proposal, as some opponents claim that the signature gathering was unlawful. If “Six Californias” does get on the 2016 ballot, in my judgment, this will be a rare chance for fundamental reforms.

Many Californians have said that the state is too big to govern effectively. But the governance problem is not size, but structure. After the property-tax limiting Proposition 13 was adopted in 1978, taxes and political power shifted from the counties and cities to the state government. California could be governed well if decentralized, but the concentration of fiscal power to the state has made the state among the highest taxed and worst regulated in the USA.

There have been many attempts to reform the lengthy California constitution, but they have all failed. Attempts to replace the Proposition 13 have gone nowhere. The best option is to start over. Creating new states would provide six fresh starts.

Critics of the six-state plan say that the wealth of the new Californias would be unequal. The Silicon Valley state would include the high-tech wealthy counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, among others. The promoter of this initiative, Timothy Drapers, happens to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

But the current 50 US states are also unequal in wealth. The income inequality problem is a national and global problem. Income can become more equal without hurting production by collecting the land rent and distributing it equally among the population. Since the critics of Six Californias are not proposing or even discussing this most effective way to equalize income, their complaints should be dismissed as irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent.

US states have been split in the past. Maine was split off from Massachusetts in 1820, and West Virginia was carved out of Virginia in 1863.

If the initiative passes, a board of commissioners would draw up a plan to divide the state’s assets and liabilities among the six new states. A good way to do this would be to divide the value of the assets by population, but to divide the liabilities (including both the official debt and the unfunded liabilities such as promised pensions) by the wealth of each state. That would go a ways to deal with the inequality problem.

California’s complex water rights could be simplified by eliminating subsidies, instead charging all users the market price of water. There could continue to be a unified water system with a water commission with representatives from the six state.

If this measure is approved by the voters and by Congress, each state will design a constitution. The new constitutions should be brief, like the US Constitution, in contrast to the lengthy current California constitution that contains many provisions best left to statute law.

The new constitutions should retain the declaration of rights in the current state constitution, including Article I, Section 24: “This declaration of rights may not be construed to impair or deny others retained by the people.” This wording, similar to the US 9th Amendment, recognizes the existence of natural and common-law rights. This text should be strengthened with something like this: “These rights of the people include the natural right to do anything which does not coercively invade the properties and bodies of others, notwithstanding any state interest or police power.”

These new constitutions will be an opportunity to replace California’s market-hampering tax system with economy-enhancing levies on pollution and land value. There should be a parallel initiative stating that if Six Californias passes, the states will collect all the land rent within their jurisdictions and distribute the rent to all six states based on their populations. A tax on land value is by itself market enhancing, better than neutral, because it promotes an efficient use of land, it reduces housing costs for lower-income folks, and eliminates real-estate bubbles. Combined with the elimination of taxes on wages, business profits, and goods, the prosperity tax shift would raise wages and make California the best place in the world for labor and business.

This is all a dream, but the past dreams of abolishing slavery, having equal rights for women, and eliminating forced segregation all came true. This proposition will at least provide a platform for discussing such fundamental reforms.
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This article was first published at http://www.progress.org/views/editorials/california-times-six/

Delacroix’s new book is available in hard copy

As you all know, Dr Delacroix recently called it quits here at Notes On Liberty (he still blogs at Facts Matter), but I thought I’d give his new book a shout-out:

My book:

Jacques Delacroix: I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography

is available from me by email : jdelacroixliberty@gmail.com. Please, send me $17 so I can buy fishing bait. Please, add $1.50 for taxes and $4 to help support the US Post Office. Total: $22.50

This is cheap for much entertainment and a little bit of
enlightenment. The book contains many items of esoteric high-brow trivia you will be able to use to make yourself sound brilliant at cocktail parties (Marin County) and at barbecues (elsewhere).

The electronic version is also available in the Kindle Store at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JY0G3SA

On reading devices other than Kindle: August 2nd

The electronic version costs only $7. (Every time you buy one I can afford another cappuccino.)

Other unimportant news: My slim collection of stories and essays in French will be on Amazon (electronic only) soon. It’s entitled: Les Pumas de grande-banlieue.

You can also find his book on the sidebar of the blog here.

Around the Web

  1. Paupers and Richlings: Piketty’s ‘Capital’ by Benjamin Kunkel (h/t Mark Brady)
  2. The neoconservatives have ramped up their attacks on Rand Paul. This means his foreign policy ideas are winning out, of course. Neoconservatives have also begun blaming libertarians rather than liberals for the failure of their Iraq war campaign
  3. Liberals and libertarians have been finding common ground in the US House of Representatives
  4. What does the BRICS bank mean? From Dan Drezner
  5. Want to solve the border crisis? Give free drugs to addicts. This is from Marc Joffe, and includes a very thoughtful analysis of charter cities and how they can help improve the institutional problems that would still plague Central America even if the drug war were to end
  6. Help! I’m a Marxist who defends capitalism

Re: How to Achieve Peace in Gaza

As the latest Gaza War rages on, several members of our consortium have taken up their pens to figure out a solution for this endless debacle. This post is in reference to an earlier post by Dr. Foldvary, which may be found here, as well as some comments by Brandon.

What is to be done for Israel/Palestine? How will the warring neighbors – perhaps neighbors is too generous a word, as it implies equality – ever come to terms? Should we care anyway? As the Germans say, das ist nicht mein Bier! The third question has a rather self-evident answer: if you at all care about what the US government does with American taxpayer money, you should be concerned that the taxpayers contribute roughly $6 billion per year to the Israeli government. Whether this is given in currency or kind I am unsure, but the dominance of American military technology in Israel seems to point more to the latter.

For the first two questions, Brandon and Dr. Foldvary argue one way, and I another.

Brandon’s proposal is essentially as follows:

Once the two sides are brought together (but not really, and the ‘not really‘ is key) under a federal umbrella – one that is endlessly interested in preserving itself at the expense of member states (and therefore willing to provide better services than either Israel, the PA, the Great Powers, or the IGOs of Great Powers) – peace and understanding (and economic prosperity!) can ensue.

Honestly, I have nothing negative to say about this idea. Confederating the two areas into one state, Israel/Palestine (an ugly name as of now; perhaps we can return to Canaan?), is probably where things are heading regardless of the specific proposal. Israeli and Palestinian intransigence at the political level will, barring some revolutionary change in the collective consciousness of their respective populations, will likely smooth over the other pertinent issues until: wham! One state! When did that happen? Where I disagree is over the practical validity of Dr. Foldvary’s and Brandon’s proposals.

For what it’s worth, here is my response to the original article:

Your plan is far too rational to work, unfortunately. There will be no apologies, no reconciliation; at least in this generation. The Israelis have a colonial contempt for their subjects that will not see them scrape and bow, and the Palestinians will not compromise on their core demands. Past peace negotiations have failed partly because of Palestinian intransigence on the right of return and on just how much land will be incorporated into a future Palestinian state.

When the two sides begin to think rationally perhaps they will implement some of your plan. But, they do not think solely with reason. Magical and religious thinking, racism, historical trauma, and other such mental detritus dominate the mind in that region. Better to leave it alone.

And some further reading:

…you assume a government can exist that will protect individual rather than group rights, but the current political status quo shows this to be an impossibility. Right-wing groups like Shas, Jewish Home, and Yisrael Beiteinu are small but their influence is disproportionate, because they are necessary to form a coalition. The Arab parties are allowed to exist but have never been part of a government, and the pro-peace parties are similarly shafted. Has Kadima made a peep since Sharon had his stroke? Yesh Atid is supposedly the centrist party but has been in a coalition with Likud and other rightists since the last Knesset election. Thinking Israeli society will shift in any way, shape, or form to a position favoring individual rather than group advantage is a pipe dream.

Even if it were not, there is too much pushing in the opposite direction to effect any sort of mental shift in the collective Israeli consciousness. The existence of perpetual warfare in Israel/Palestine has created three parties roughly analogous on both sides: the extreme right who wants war, the extreme left who wants peace, and the vast majority of both populations, who want to survive.

The problem is, the survival instincts of the majority are much more easily manipulated by the hardliners on the right wing, who preach intransigence, racism, and further warfare. The doves on the left, a far smaller force than the hawks on the right, preach peace which falls on deaf ears with each additional attack. What is worrisome is that large swaths of Israeli society are becoming hardened to the realities of war and treat it almost like entertainment. Re: the Hamas Rocket Drinking Game (drink each time you hear a siren!) and the theatre on a hill in Sderot for watching the bombardment of Gaza (you can find pictures online).

The best case scenario is that both sides get sick of spilling each other’s blood and, for the sake of their groups, hash out a peace deal that will probably be unfair to the Palestinians, but just unpalatable enough that they wont cast it in the teeth of the Israelis. I have no idea what this will look like exactly, but imagine that the right of return will be denied or severely limited, Israel will retain the majority of settlements or visiting rights in certain places (religious sites in Hebron, say), and the Palestinians will lose East Jerusalem and have to station their capital elsewhere, such as Ramallah. I also imagine some form of ethnic cleansing, like population exchange, will take place.

That is my assumption, unless there are systemic changes in Israeli and Palestinian society. The vast majority of them are sick of fighting, but continue to yoke themselves to racist, violent nationalist movements. When they decide on a better course of action for making peace, then we will see something interesting; until then, zilch.

In responding to Brandon’s thoughts, I find nothing substantial to change in my thinking on this matter. Although a Confederated Canaan, one built on individual rather than group rights and respecting the human dignity of all the subjects therein, would be a splendid idea, we still have to get there in reality. My main contention is that this is probably impossible. There is too much holding everything back for a rational and fair final peace. What will likely happen, as I noted earlier, is a grudging peace between Israel and Palestine with the dominant party (Israel) coming out better off than the weaker (Palestine). Palestinians will probably lose control of East Jerusalem and have a heavy security blanket draped over them for decades, while as has been done in the past, religious rights will be respected for holy sites such as the Dome of the Rock or, for the Jews, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Perhaps some sort of Palestinian-only corridor to sites in Israel, and an Israeli-only corridor for sites in the West Bank. More interior settlements like those in Hebron or in the middle of the West Bank will be dismantled or the settlers abandoned, while those closer to the Green Line will be incorporated into the new Israel. The only substantial difference I can imagine is that, unlike now, the Israeli military apparatus will have the full, not just the grudging, support of the new Palestinian state in implementing the peace.

Over time, people will acclimate to this semi-normalized situation – and maybe at that point, a truly reconciliatory peace can be achieved. But until then, I think a Confederated Canaan is not going to happen on equitable lines.

A California Crack-Up?

We can only hope.

There has been a small flurry of news articles covering the success of a political initiative by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur to split California into six states rather than one. If this sounds familiar, it’s because many Notewriters have been advocating for more decentralization – both in the US and abroad – since NOL was founded back in 2012. Because breaking up states within free trade zones is such a sophisticated idea, many mainstream pundits have been reluctant to read up on it. Instead, Left-wing reactionaries (and really, are there any other kind?) simply resort to slandering the entrepreneur responsible for the initiative (his name is Timothy Draper, by the way, and you can look up his wiki here), slandering libertarianism, and slandering rich people (Slate, predictably, covers all of the fallacious bases in one fell swoop).

Luckily, the internet now provides people with more than three television channels.

There are two things you need to know about secession within the US free trade zone. First, it is extremely hard to break up one state into many. There is a constitutional process for the whole idea (I don’t understand why the framers, and subsequent legal experts, can respect secession within free trade zones but cannot bother to apply their reasoning to secession in matters outside of a free trade zone’s jurisdiction; Texas, for example, provides us with a great case study of what happens when an administrative polity breaks away from a federal state only to join a rival federal state; Why should this concept not be applied to the West’s foreign policies today?).

In order for a potential administrative unit (“state”) to become an actual US state, it must first be approved by state legislatures. So, in California’s case, only the California legislature needs to approve of the secession. However, there are rules in the constitution allowing for states to join up with each other, or for one region between two US states (like the hippie area in northern California and southern Oregon) to apply for statehood as well. When two or more states are involved, the legislatures of each state must approve of the secession (or marriage). Are we all clear?

Second, after the state legislature(s) approve of the secession, the move must then be approved by the US Congress (both houses). Andrew Prokop, of the Left-wing site vox.com (lest I be accused of being too ideological), explains well what this means:

The biggest difficulty of all would be getting Congressional approval. Giving California 12 Senate seats would be an extremely tough sell. Though those seats wouldn’t necessarily be overwhelmingly Democratic [...] they would dilute the power of every existing senator.

Indeed. Now you can hopefully see why libertarians generally support decentralized governance (and let it be remembered that federalism – even a territorially-expansionist federalism – is likely to be the quickest, but still legally-soundest, way towards decentralized governance). As I wrote in a ‘comments’ thread last September (2013):

[...] the federal pie itself would not grow in the event of a few states splitting up.

Think of it this way: suppose the federal budget is $100 for the year. Currently, there are 100 Senators and 435 members of the House, so altogether there are 535 politicians dividing up the $100 pie.

Now suppose the number of states suddenly doubled. You now have 200 Senators and say 870 members of the House.

Numbers like this guarantee that each politician will have less power.

Additionally, you cannot grow the federal pie simply by creating new states out of thin air. If this were the case, then politicians and intellectuals who favor the government redistribution of wealth approach would have long ago advocated for more states. Advocates of redistribution recognize that more decentralization of power makes it harder to come to a consensus about policy options.

And the less government does, the better off everybody will be.

Now, with this being said, there is more than one type of pie. There are state pies and county pies and private sector pies, too. Secession would weaken the power of state-level politicians (Governor Brown could only inflict damage on northern Californians rather than all Californians, for example).

County pies may or may not grow, but in my estimation I do not think growth at the county level is all that important.

The one pie that would grow would be the private sector pie, largely due to the lack of consensus (or, in other words, the greater amount of special interests) at the federal level that decentralization brings about.

Speaking of ‘comments’ threads: One of the things I like most about blogs is the fact that many of the insights I receive about an idea or an event are found in the ‘comments’ threads rather than in an original post. The openness of the blogging platform provides not only an avenue for individuals to express their thoughts, no matter how primitive or vulgar, but also a way for people to expand their horizons and learn something new. This is one of the reasons I try to encourage readers, as well as my fellow Notewriters, to get more involved in the ‘comments’ threads, although y’all are understandably weary of trolls.

Riding Coach Through Atlas Shrugged. Chapter 1: The Calendar Hung Itself.

50th Anniversary Edition pages 11-20*

*Note: The actual chapter ends on page 33 but I am splitting these up based on POV changes for easier digestibility.

Chapter Summary: White-collar worker Eddie Willars runs into a peculiar homeless man, reflects on a decaying city, and attempts to convince his boss of an urgent matter in Colorado.

My initial impressions are all pretty positive. The opening line: “Who is John Galt?” accomplishes everything an opening should and most importantly sets up a mystery to pique the reader’s interest.

Even with my limited knowledge of small parts of this book I was still immediately hooked by the questions presented on the first page: “Who is John Galt?”, “Why does it [the above question] bother you?”, and without missing a beat (or answering those questions) Rand describes the world that frames these questions quite beautifully with several potent, if a bit obvious, metaphors.

The bum as the faceless masses, intelligent but wearied and cynical without the energy to change their station but able to if inspired. “The face was wind-browned, cut by lines of weariness and cynical resignation; the eyes were intelligent.”

It also seems to be relevant that the bum is our introduction to the character of John Galt. The nameless, faceless masses knowing about the coming change almost instinctively and long before the more comfortable and well off middle class.

The city, in my estimation, represents society as a whole. Once beautiful but now decaying and, like the old tree on the Taggart estate, hollow and rotting from within. “…the shafts of skyscrapers against them were turning brown, like an old painting in oil, the color of a fading masterpiece.” The seed of beauty and triumph is there but it has rotted from within.

Eddie is who really intrigued me though; he reminded me a lot of Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich. A middle man in society who knows something is wrong but doesn’t have the skills to do anything about it. While he cannot identify the sinking feeling that permeates every fiber of his being he does have a stable foundation to latch onto.

“When he was asked what he wanted to do [in life], he answered at once, “whatever is right”…”twenty two years ago. He had kept that statement unchallenged ever since; the other questions had faded in his mind…[B]ut he still thought it self evident that one had to do what was right; he had never learned how people could want to do otherwise.”

As a natural-rights libertarian I believe that there are absolute moral and ethical truths and Eddie’s commitment to a similar personal philosophy deepened my ability to relate to the character. It also stands in stark contrast to more modern interpretations of ethics such as “rule utilitarianism” which will always decay to subjective act-utilitarianism.

“David Lyons argued that collapse occurs because for any given rule, in the case where breaking the rule produces more utility, the rule can be sophisticated by the addition of a sub-rule that handles cases like the exception. This process holds for all cases of exceptions, and so the ‘rules’ will have as many ‘sub-rules’ as there are exceptional cases, which, in the end, makes an agent seek out whatever outcome produces the maximum utility.”

In short, any attempt to prevent the “ends justify the means” outcome of utilitarian ethics, without some sort of higher moral authority, inevitably fails and the system is reduced to one of pure utilitarianism. I was actually under the impression that Rand was a bit of a utilitarian herself so I will be interested to see if this commitment to the universal “right” turns out to be a character flaw in Eddie or whether it remains an ideal to be upheld.

Eddie’s confrontation with James Taggart was also quite inspiring. A man who knows he is stepping out of line but is willing to do so for the sake of his personal convictions is an ideal that many of us could due to imitate. I will save my examination of James until the next installment but the important thing I took from this interaction between James and Eddie was how uncomfortable James grew when Eddie looked into his eyes.

“What Taggart disliked about Eddie Willars was this habit of looking straight into people’s eyes. Eddie’s eyes were blue, wide and questioning; he had blond hair and a square face, unremarkable except for that look of scrupulous attentiveness and open, puzzled wonder.”

If, as I suspect, Eddie is the everyman (or reader avatar) in this story and James is an (the?) antagonist then what I am supposed to take from this is that the villains in this world, and in ours, cannot stand up to scrutiny. They are filled with uneasiness when we examine their actions and question their motivations. If Eddie is an ideal, then his attentiveness is an ideal as well.

Eddie’s relationship with the Taggarts as a whole is something I hope is explored more. It is obvious he admires and respects Dagny since they grew up together and the fact that he still has some sort of respect for James leads me to believe that the latter wasn’t always so insufferable. What made Eddie so devoted to this family? Was it simply their entrepreneurial spirit or was there something more?

I had a few small criticisms but I am going to have to wait to see how they play out. As I mentioned briefly at the start of this entry Rand’s metaphors were really straight forward which isn’t bad in and of itself but simply something I am taking note of and will look for as the chapters go by.

I cringed a bit when Eddie admitted that he was simply a serf pledged to the Taggart lands. The whole feudalism angle is one that I am going to keep an eye on since one of the most common attacks on libertarianism is that it would descend into a neo-feudal corporatist society.

Of course I may be taking the line a bit too seriously since Eddie was simply trying to get James to agree to his requests to support the Rio Norte line. In fact it could very well turn out to be a rebuke of that attack once all is said and done.

Finally I have no idea what the giant calendar is supposed to represent or foreshadow. Perhaps it is simply a literal translation of the city’s days being numbered which would both be very clever and kind of groan-worthy at the same time. Hopefully Eddie shows up again soon to let us know but I have a sneaking suspicion that our protagonist isn’t Mr. Willars despite my initial preoccupation with his character.

Check in next time for first impressions of Dagny, a word of support for monopolies, and our first real look at James Taggart. I wish this was a George R.R. Martin novel so maybe he would be dead before the book was over. Hey, I never said I would be impartial.

Part 2

Into the ear of every anarchist that sleeps but doesn’t dream…

We must sing, We must sing,We must sing…

 

 

There is no libertarian art.

Well, that is a slight exaggeration, but not much of one. Art is a vital part to any social movement and it is one area where libertarians suffer immensely. Sure there are libertarian leaning authors such as Robert Heinlein and modern Austrian economic art like the guys over at www.econstories.tv but for the most part there are few non-academic ways to inspire potential libertarians.

This is a problem I lament when I am feeling negative about the prospects for a free society which, to be fair, is usually the case. Sometimes reading an article about Intellectual Property just isn’t enough to get the passion flowing.

“But Wait!” You say, “you failed to mention the author who brought tens of thousands of people into the libertarian fold. The late, the great, the Ayn Rand!”

 

….yea about that.

 

I don’t like Ayn Rand. There, I said it. Bring out the pitchforks and tie me to a Rearden Steel railroad track if you must but I stand by my statement. Now I know what you are all thinking: “But her works exemplify the individual freedoms that a libertarian society should strive for!” or “Dagny is a strong independent woman who don’t need no government!”

Yes, I am aware, but it isn’t Ayn Rand the author I dislike. Actually it isn’t even Ayn Rand the person that I dislike. I don’t like the idea of Ayn Rand. The metaphysical zeitgeist that surrounds and worships her throughout every circle of the libertarian movement from Walter Block to Milton Friedman to every other subscriber on www.reddit.com/r/libertarian.

All too often I have had to argue about libertarianism through the lens of someone whose only exposure to the philosophy is Ayn Rand and the objectivist selfishness that nearly everyone associates with capitalism. In short, I think she is bad for libertarianism and provides no end of ammunition that can be used against those of us with a more nuanced moral/ethical position.

Here is the kicker though. I have not read a single Ayn Rand novel. Not Anthem, not the Fountainhead, and especially not her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. My knowledge of her works (outside of objectivist philosophy) comes mostly through a bit of osmosis during many diatribes in my conversion to libertarian thought and the first few chapters of Anthem I read in high school before being bored to tears.

I feel that my lack of personal experience with the work of Ayn Rand is a great injustice to someone so influential to many (but certainly not all) of the ideals that I hold so dear and maybe, just maybe, I can siphon off some of the passion that so many others feel when reading her novels.

So it is my objective to spend the next several weeks (months perhaps) reading Atlas Shrugged along with you, the faithful readers here at www.notesonliberty.com, and recording chapter based summaries of my thoughts, opinions, and analysis from a literary, ethical, and philosophical standpoint. These will be full of personal anecdotes and armchair analysis so be prepared for a tumultuous ride through one of the “great?” works of the 20th century.

Part one of many comes tomorrow morning.

How to Achieve Peace in Gaza

Israel’s bombing of Gaza has not stopped its rocket attacks, so it is counterproductive. Instead, Israel should help the people of Gaza establish a communitarian democracy.

The government of Israel would announce on radio, television, web sites, and leaflets, that it will be sending in troops, not to fight against the people of Gaza, but to empower their communities.

The Israeli government would also apologize for its misguided policies of the past, and for the suffering and humiliation it caused for the Gaza Palestinians. Of course the Israelis have suffered also, but if one demands a counter apology, one is not really repenting and regretting.

The Israeli administration would designate neighborhood boundaries for communities of about 1000 residents and also enterprise owners. Residents would volunteer to serve on the community council. The Israeli troops would defend the community from any extremist opponents of the new democracy. The communities would set up their own protective elements, and the Israeli troops would withdraw.

Israel should have democratized Gaza in 1967 rather then let the area fester. Then in 2005, Israel removed its settlements without negotiating with the Palestinian rulers. Now Israel should do what occupiers world-wide have failed to do, lay down an infrastructure of democracy.

The community councils of Gaza would elect representatives to regional associations, and the regions would elect representatives to a Gaza parliament. The Palestinians of the West Bank should also elect their own parliament. Then the two parliaments would elect a Palestinian federation of two provinces, Gaza and the West Bank (perhaps renamed East Palestine). It would be best to leave local matters to the two provinces.

Israel should then stop imposing tax policy on the Palestinians and let them set up their own public finances. But advisers should encourage the Palestinian councils to collect the land rent and use that for public revenue rather than tax their wages and goods.

Unfortunately the Palestinian governors have focused their resources on fighting Israel rather than economic development. But after the communities in Gaza have become empowered, Gaza will no longer be occupied territory. Israel would remove the barriers around Gaza gradually, since there will still be extremists who seek destruction. But Israel should facilitate the greatest possible mobility for the Palestinians under the constraint of protection, rather than treat the Palestinians with the arrogance that has been practiced in the past. “No more humiliation” should be the stated slogan.

A similar policy should be pursued in the West Bank. The Palestinian authority chiefs will resist transferring power to the people and their local councils, but a democratic Gaza (or West Palestine) will cause the East Palestinians to demand genuine democracy. A bottom-up governance in the West Bank would then result in a federation of West and East Palestine that would then negotiate a lasting peace with Israel.

There have been some peace gatherings among Israelis and Palestinians to humanize their relations and to see that individuals are people much like themselves. But such personal interactions are no substitute for confronting the essential issue of who shall own the land.

The solution that is both just and politically feasible is to recognize the pre-1967 boundaries and then convert the Israeli settlements as leaseholds that pay rent to the Palestinian government.

Ideally all landowners in Israel and Palestine should pay the market rent of their land possessions. Land rent would serve as the best public revenue for a Confederation of Israel and Palestine. Palestine would be a state within the Confederation and would itself also be a federation of West and East Palestine.

The other contentious issue has been the return of displaced Palestinians to their pre-1948 lands. A peace treaty should allow a limited return of Palestinians to Israel, with some compensation for lands that have become homes for others. So long as justice is sought, the maximalists will usually be in the minority.

If justice is not established, time will be an enemy of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, as extremists and nuclear perils are on the rise. The choice is either justice now or destruction later.
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Note: this article is also at http://www.progress.org/views/editorials/democracy-and-justice-for-gaza/

Entendiendo la inmigración a los Estados Unidos

El día de hoy murieron una o dos personas intentando cruzar la frontera entre México y Estados Unidos. El número de fallecidos es, sin embargo, ignorado pues la mayoría de la información existente sobre la situación migratoria en el sur de Estados Unidos se encuentra oculta por un manto de ignorancia y desinterés político crónico que ha desgastado los incentivos para discutir y explorar el tema migratorio.

Los datos provistos por el gobierno de los Estados Unidos de América son, sin embargo, alarmantes. Desde octubre, 2013 hasta junio de este año más de 52,000 niños sin acompañantes alcanzaron la fronteras superando en un 200% la cantidad reportada por el gobierno el año anterior.  Se espera que en el año 2014 más de 70,000 niños intentaran cruzar la frontera.

Tres niñas en vestido de quinceañeras juegan en Tijuana al lado del muro de la frontera México-USA. Fotografía: Romel Jacinto. Flickr. CC.
Tres niñas en vestido de quinceañeras juegan en Tijuana al lado del muro de la frontera México-USA.
Fotografía: Romel Jacinto. Flickr. CC.

La crisis aumentó cuando las imágenes de niños en campos de deportación empezaron a ser compartidas en las redes noticiosas y redes sociales. El gobierno de Barack Obama (quien ganó el premio Nobel de la Paz en el año 2009) reaccionó solicitando al Congreso de los Estados Unidos la cantidad de US$3,700 millones para empezar a responder a la emergencia humanitaria. El plan, en general, es una campaña cortoplacista que busca apaciguar las aguas en espera de que los medios de comunicación se interesen por otros temas.

En los países centroamericanos (la región de donde provienen la mayoría de estos niños) los gobiernos también reaccionaron rápidamente solicitando recursos económicos para financiar campañas de ‘educación’ y ‘concientización’ sobre las amenazas que representa realizar el viaje de alrededor de 2,000 millas. Estos gobiernos también reaccionan en espera de que la atención de este urgente problema se desvíe hacia los otros problemas cotidianos de seguridad, hambre, corrupción, insalubridad y pobreza que afectan la región.

La única solución para frenar esta crisis humanitaria, sin embargo, está muy lejos o es prácticamente imposible de conseguir si las condiciones globales actuales no cambian. Además, la solución a la situación migratoria requerirá que acciones legales, económicas y sociales sean tomadas en los países de Estados Unidos, México y Centro América para encontrar respuestas a largo plazo en estos países. De no hacerse nada, la actual situación migratoria continuará sin solucionarse de la misma manera en que la Guerra contra las Drogas continúa año con año aumentando.

Actualmente, la reforma migratoria no será discutida en el Congreso de los Estados Unidos de América y las acciones necesarias para atacar el flujo originario de inmigrantes indocumentados en los países de origen implican un reto dantesco. Los migrantes centroamericanos viajan al norte en busca de empleos y escapando de la violencia en la que fue inmersa el Istmo Centroamericano desde finales del siglo XX por el crecimiento del crimen organizado, las mafias del narcotráfico y la incapacidad de los gobiernos por afrontar los cambios globales fomentando un desarrollo económico sostenible para responder a las demandas de la economía mundial.

A pesar de la firma de un tratado de comercio regulado entre Estados Unidos y Centroamérica en el año 2005 conocido como DR-CAFTA, los países centroamericanos han sido incapaces de aprovechar las ventajas competitivas del tratado y los beneficios han sido para tan solo algunos sectores económicos.

Inmigrantes hondureños y salvadoreños que cruzaron la frontera entre Mexico-USA detenidos en Tejas.  Fotografía: Eric Gay/AP
Inmigrantes hondureños y salvadoreños que cruzaron la frontera entre Mexico-USA detenidos en Tejas.
Fotografía: Eric Gay/AP

Pero no crea estimado lector que la batalla está totalmente perdida para las miles de personas que buscan mejorar sus condiciones de vida mediante la migración forzosa de la que son víctimas. A continuación les comparto algunos estudios y ensayos que analizan el tema y profundizan en la compleja situación migratoria que enfrenta el continente americano. Al final del día, es solo educándonos y compartiendo el conocimiento adquirido que podremos contribuir a la búsqueda de soluciones a este tema migratorio que hasta el día de hoy ha sido detenido por una filosofía política inmoral y inhumana.

Ensayos:

Libros:

The European Union Needs More States, Not More Territory

The recent uproar over the upcoming vote on the potential secession of Scotland from Great Britain illustrates well the European Union’s foreign policy weaknesses. The EU’s potential to increase the number of states within its borders without having to expand its geographic space is an overlooked avenue to reaching a bolder, more sophisticated foreign policy.

Regional aspirations for more political autonomy have been voiced since the time of the creation of Germany and Italy in the late 19th century, but wars, nationalism, economic concerns, and fear of wars have largely kept these aspirations on the fringe of domestic political debates in Europe.

Steven Erlanger’s 2012 piece in the New York Times explains well why this is changing and what is currently happening in the European Union:

The great paradox of the European Union, which is built on the concept of shared sovereignty, is that it lowers the stakes for regions to push for independence.

Erlanger also goes on to quote a scholar at the European Council on Foreign Relations:

‘The whole development of European integration has lowered the stakes for separation, because the entities that emerge know they don’t have to be fully autonomous and free-standing,’ said Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. ‘They know they’ll have access to a market of 500 million people and some of the protections of the E.U.’

The European Union has essentially taken the place of the nation-state as the chief entity in charge of standardizing trading policies in Europe. This political setup is a great opportunity for regions that have been absorbed into larger nation-states to assert more fiscal and political independence because of these regions’ new interdependence with a larger part of the European economy. The confederation has provided an opportunity for smaller states to emerge while at the same time providing these small state polities with a range of options and allies that are often missing from small states’ repertoires. The best of both worlds has a chance to flower: local governance and total participation in world trade.

This is better understood with a quick historical sketch of 19th and 20th century Europe in mind.

In the last decades of the 19th century the large nation-states of central Europe – Germany and Italy – had just been formed after centuries of being composed of hundreds of small polities. These small polities were parochial, and many of these polities’ elite factions had erected protectionist barriers around their small territories. These newly established nation-states were flanked on their eastern borders by cosmopolitan-but-despotic empires operating from Vienna, Moscow and Istanbul, and to the south were small Muslim polities haphazardly connected to the Ottoman Empire and economically dependent on Mediterranean piracy and Saharan trade routes. To the north and west: oceans and the seafaring, imperial regimes of Great Britain, the Netherlands, and France.

A map of Europe in 1800 AD. Look at how many polities are in what is now Germany and Italy. Thanks goes to euratlas.com

The formation of these larger nation-states were undertaken, generally speaking, in order to unify territories considered to be connected under various broad cultural domains into a cohesive political units and mercantile trading blocs.

After Germany and Italy achieved political unification, programs geared towards creating economic spheres of influence within the territory of the new nation-states began to be implemented. The creation of nation-states in central Europe had the contradictory result of opening up free trade zones within the territories of nation-states while simultaneously erecting new trading barriers that targeted individuals and factions not connected with the new nation-states. Free trade won in the domestic arena of these new states, but it also lost out internationally.

The political unification of these nation-states did not go down well with a myriad of factions. The reasons for resistance were varied, but suffice it to say that there was an intense backlash against the centralization of power and the nationalization of everyday life in the new nation-states of central Europe.

To counter regional resistance, proponents of political centralization argued that political union halted the wars that had wracked Europe for centuries (the economic benefits of freer trade were touted as well, but this argument did not have the same clout as it does today). However, this intellectual argument was framed in nationalistic terms, so when it trickled down into the public sphere of European life what emerged was a solid case against regional fracture that involved one part peace and one part national chauvinism.

The end result of this was the destruction of Europe through two large-scale, horrific wars.

The European Union has succeeded where the nation-states of Germany and Italy failed: by creating a massive free trade zone that eliminates protectionism (as the German and Italian nation-states did), and the necessity of cultural chauvinism (“nationalism”)  to maintain legitimacy (which the German and Italian nation-states could not do), the European Union has provided Europe with an incredible opportunity to build a lasting peace.

Adopting a requirement for member states  to incorporate a constitutional option that allows for referendums on secession would be a bold move that would not only bring a higher level of sophistication to EU foreign policy, but also fluster Moscow without edging closer to its borders (think about the example this would set in Russia’s own self-styled federation).

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Deviant Tendency: An inside look at the politics of Iran

[Editor's note: the following is a short essay by Payam Ghorbanian. Payam was born in Tehran, Iran. He got his bachelor of science in Engineering from Zanjan University in Zanjan, Iran. He has been participating in liberal political activities and he was involved with some think tanks in Iran. He is doing research in the field of international relations and Iran's foreign policy as an independent activist. He is now living in San Jose, California.

I am excited to post his thoughts because of their potential as a conduit for intercultural dialogue and exchange. I have left his essay largely intact, but did break up some of his longer paragraphs for clarity's sake. Thanks to Payam for taking the time to write this, and you can find his other essay at Notes On Liberty here, here, and here]

Last month was kind of exciting for me. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s brother said “… my brother has gotten rid of his deviant friends…”. The term “Deviant Tendency” has been using in Iran for calling Mr. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and his followers. Mr. Mashaei had been represented by Ahmadinejad for being the next president of Iran but the Guardian Council of the Constitution turned that willing down. Therefore Ahmadinejad left his office while he was so disappointed and at that time he said that the council has just deprived Iran of having a distinguished president. Although with “Approbation Supervision”, which implies the right for acceptance or rejection of elections legality and candidate’s competency, probably just the supreme leader and his followers can be qualified through the barrier of the Guardian Council.

I do not really care about this rumor whether or not Ahmadinejad and Mashaei are separated, the issue would be what Mr Mashaei’s political and social views are and what it is wrong with that. Also why the supreme leader and his followers do not like him? Why they tried to make him isolated even though he has no official title? As you might know during the second term of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, Mashaei was the chief of staff of the president of Iran. But why are they still scared of him? I should mention this that from my point of view, I am 100 percent sure that they (Ahmadinejad and Mashaei) just made this ending relations story up to have this chance for getting qualified for the next presidency election. But why are the supreme leader’s followers so excited of hearing that rumor? Apparently they still like Ahmadinejad but just him and as they said there would not be another chance for the combination of Ahmadinejad plus Mashaei to survive.

Now pay attention to these quotes:

“The area of Islamism has come to end, we had an Islamic revolution in 1979 but the area of Islamism is finished”

or

“Today, Iran is friend with American and Israeli people, No nation in the world is our enemy.”

These sentences and quotes have been told by the nearest person to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is Mr. Rahim Mashaei. Obviously one could talk about these ideas in the free world and no one is going to be prosecuted because of that. However, talking about ending of Islamism inside a revolutionary country like Iran would be insane. I believe these types of moderation comments about Islam and also talking about people of Israel and United States not to be enemy of the Iranian people were all about politics, and Mr. Mashaei did not believe in what he said. But what were his points at that time?

It was the time that Green Movement and protestors confronted against rigged election. I would say Mashaei did all these things to reduce pressures over Ahmadinejad and in order to deceiving and poisoning the people’s mind, those people of the middle class who desperately believe in the new relations between Iran and the free world. Also I believe Mashaei did all these things to be a target instead of AhmadiNejad, which is literally about what old friends do for each other.

In Iran and especially in Shia beliefs of Islam, an ultimate savior of humankind and the final Imam of the twelve Imams will emerge with Jesus Christ and will set the kingdom of heaven on the earth to bring peace and justice to the world. It is the belief that the twelfth Imam disappeared hundreds of years ago and went into occultation state, but he will definitely re-appear around the end of the world, before the Day of Judgment. Before the Islamic revolution in Iran and probably before uprising of Ayatollah Khomein, there was a common trend that Shia would wait up until its survivor comes back. However, Khomeini argued that government should be run with traditional Islamic rules and for this to happen a leading Islamic jurist must provide “Guardianship” and as he said “Wilayat” over the people. This guardianship would be remained till the Twelfth Imam returns.

At that time this theory was accepted by the revolutionists and as the result of that, the last king of Iran felt down and “Wilayat AL Faqih” (guardianship of the Islamic Jurists) popped up. The terms of your majesty were destroyed and the Imam and the Wilayat was established and then the supreme leader was considered as the twelfth Imam’s deputy, which means that his orders are the lord’s orders and any questions or criticizes would be called as hostility against the twelfth Imam. This chart will help you out to understand more clearly about the hierarchy of Imams in Shia.

When I was living in Iran I always heard some rumors about the distinguished people who they or their followers believe that they are in connection with the twelfth Imam. They claim they can talk to him in person and get orders from him without any problem. Probably in the past they could take advantage of people’s stupidities. However, they had never been accepted by the politicians inside Iran before Ahmadinejad’s presidency started. Now you can tell why they have been called as Deviant Tendency. Mashaei claimed that he could talk to the twelfth Imam in person and he believed that when we can have access to the real source, why we should follow his deputy, who does not have any confirmation from the real lord.

chart of persian imams

Before Mashaei tried to extend his theory, the revolutionary guard crippled all of his ambitions subsequently. His followers were arrested and he was about to get caught too but it seemed that Ahmadinejad was completely in agreement with what he was saying. Ahmadinejad tried to protect Mashaei but as you know he lost the protection of the supreme leader. As a result, his authority dropped considerably. He got teased and he lost his connections and finally he got kicked out of the power circle and all of these were about his friendship with Mashaei, which he truly believed in him.

And now the new game has just started. First it was announced by Ahmadinejad’s brother that there would not be any connection between his brother and the deviant tendency. Then Ahmadinejad had a speech in Mashahd, one of the most religious cities in Iran where the 8th Imam of Shia has been buried, and he said:

“… the only way to overcome the enemies of the nation is standing on the value of our goals in the same way that Khomeini has showed us. I would totally remain on that way to serve the nation and revolution and its values and principles.”

He also tried to imply on revolution principles, the principles that revolutionists believe has been neglected after Rohani became a president.

Are drugs actually bad for you?

There are a lot of psychedelic substances coming out of tribal cultures and we’re finding them to be of immense benefit for mental health issues in the West.

This is from an interview with Scottish filmmaker David Graham Scott conducted by Chem Squier for Vice. The whole interview is worth reading, and it is about using psychedelics to wean people off of opiates (pharmaceutical and illicit). One of the things that bothers me about proponents of drug liberalization is the phrase “We all know drug use is harmful, but…” because it’s not necessarily true that “drug use is harmful.”

Drug use can lead to addiction, but this is not the same thing as drug use is harmful. In fact, echoing Audrey’s recent post on heroin markets, I would argue that the War on Drugs actually creates the dangers associated with drug use. This is so because the base product that illicit drugs are made from is very different from the product that appears on the streets (or in the pharmacy), and the product that hits the streets is different from the initial base product because of the initial product’s illegality.

Slow down Brandon. Let me see if I can rephrase that last sentence. Drugs are made of plants. Drugs in their final street form are not usually consumed in their natural plant form because drug manufacturers have an incentive to alter the plant to avoid detection by government authorities.

Does this make sense? So cocaine, for example, is snorted in a powder form because it is illegal, not because drug manufacturers are trying to get more people hooked on their product.

Drugs have been with us since we first became human beings. So-called “tribal” peoples have continued to show us this through their long-running practices associated with psychedelics and opiates (and cannabinoids for that matter). In fact, there is some archaeological evidence that drugs were with other humanoids long before we homo sapiens were even around. Aside from the fact that “tribal” peoples still have a lot to teach us about ourselves and about the world in general, their drug use habits also show that there is a distinct, legitimate place in society for the use of drugs. Passing legislation to punish this long-held practice will only make life worse for everybody in society (it is important to note that addicts and recreational drug users are not the only ones affected by the War on Drugs).

Think about coffee. Coffee is essentially an addictive product of a plant that may, in the years to come, be recognized as such. Remember that cocaine was consumed in much the same way coffee was a hundred years ago. Should coffee be outlawed by government?

Lastly, addiction rates have hovered around 2% of a given population since data on vices have been available (the early to mid 19th century). This trend has continued to the present day. The only difference between then and now is that drug markets and drug use have become much more dangerous because of government laws that pretentiously state individuals should not consume a product government agents (drugs users themselves, no doubt) think is bad for society. (h/t Ben Huh?)

Immigrant Children Victims of Drug War

Thousands of children are entering the US to escape threats by drug gangs and drug lords. The US has for many years exported its war on drug users to Mexico. The increasing force applied in Mexico has driven the drug dealers to Central America, and now the governments of those countries are being increasingly corrupted and destabilized.

Anti-immigrant voices in the USA are obsessed with the effects of their policies, the child migrants, and seek to strengthen immigration barriers rather than confront the causes. The children are not coming to the USA to take advantage of welfare aid. They are fleeing from physical danger.

The drug gangs in Central America are forcing teenagers to join them, or else get killed. That is how they recruit new members. That is why children are fleeing.

US immigration policy contributes to the problem. With legal immigration restricted, and paths to legal residency blocked, immigrants are forced to work in the underground economy, where they are vulnerable to being arrested by the immigration authorities. The undocumented persons then become victims of extortion rackets. Traffickers tell parents that their children left behind in the home country are in danger, and demand money to bring them into the USA. But often the children are abandoned in the desert or used to carry drugs.

The US government is telling the Mexican government to do more to stop children from entering Mexico. But when a child’s parents have been killed in the drug war, and the children are threatened with death, they will swim across rivers, trek through jungles, and cross deserts to save their lives. The US government is committing policy child abuse by refusing to remedy the causes.

Now US government officials are offering the Central American governments aid to programs to keep children in their home country. But until the violence stops, children will not stay in a school where the drug gangs will kill them or make them miserable.

The only way to stop this tragedy is to end the war on drug users and to legalize immigration. Children are not being victimized in the production and sale of alcohol, because it is legal. When a substance is legal, there is a competitive market, and profits are competed down to normal. There is advertizing, and goods can be transported and traded at normal costs.

When a substance is illegal, we get turf wars and coerced children. The criminal systems treat minors with special care, especially when they have been forced to help criminals. Therefore, the drug lords use helpless children, who are also more dependent on adults.

Besides decriminalizing drugs, as Portugal has done successfully, the US should legalize the immigration of all persons who are not threats. US policy has created violence in Latin America, and then the US refuses entry to the victims of that violence.

Critics of immigration claim that the new residents take jobs from American citizens. This claim has been disproved by economic studies. But immigrants would be even less dependent on governmental welfare if labor were fully legalized. It is illegal even for American citizens to freely engage in labor in the USA; the penalty for labor is a levy on the wages earned. When labor is fully legal, it is free of any tax or minimum wage law. A tax on wages has an excess burden or deadweight loss, making it a penalty for working.

In this way, three deeply unjust policies have created the crisis of immigrant children. First, the prohibition of drugs drives the industry towards drug lords and gangs that enslave children, who seek escape by emigrating. Secondly, anti-immigration policies make children have to suffer long and dangerous trips without protection, to evade immigration controls, and risk getting deported. Third, the children are not allowed to work, work opportunities for undocumented adults are limited, and legal labor is suppressed with heavy taxes.

One hundred years ago, prior to World War I, the US did not suffer this inflow of children. The causes were absent. There was no war on drugs, there were no immigration barriers, and there was no tax on wages. Millions of immigrants entered legally, became employed, and contributed to American prosperity. Now we have a declining labor participation rate, drug violence, and a big immigration problem. Our technology is better, but smarter phones will not save us from fundamentally bad government policy.

Increased/Deadly Potency in Heroin Markets due to Fentanyl

The Boston Globe put out a piece yesterday entitled “DEA details path of deadly heroin blend to N.E.: Potent painkiller fentanyl believed added in Mexico.”

This headline could not be more representative of the problems Dr. Mark Thornton mentions in his book The Economics of Prohibition. To summarize Thornton:

“Prohibition statutes generally consist of three parts. First, to be illegal, products must contain a minimum amount of a certain drug… Second, penalties are generally levied on the basis of weight… Finally, penalties are established for production, distribution, and possession. The prohibition statutes consistently define the product in terms of minimum potency (without constraining the maximum). Also, the heavier the shipment, the more severe the penalty.” (Thornton, 1991, p. 96).

Therefore distributors and traffickers (the Mexican drug cartels moving the heroin that originated in Colombia to the U.S.) have every incentive, in order to avoid detection but keep revenue high, to increase the potency of the drugs they are moving such that they can move the same value of heroin but in a smaller quantity. This is what we see currently happening with Mexican cartels mixing heroin with fentanyl.

From the Boston Globe article, “Ruthless drug organizations are including fentanyl, an opioid 30 times more powerful than heroin, to provide a new, extreme high for addicts who often are unaware the synthetic painkiller has been added.” The final point of this quote is critical. There is a huge information asymmetry between traffickers and the end consumer. Because drugs often change many hands before they reach the final user, quality standards are hard to track and verify. Furthermore, end users have minimal recourse to deal with issues of product contamination or inferior quality. They cannot sue their dealer. They cannot take anyone to court. Therefore, as a direct result of the illegal status of heroin trade, consumers have very few rights and outlets to verify that their product contains what they were expecting. While many people want to point out the Mexican cartels as the villains (and they may very well be on other margins like the relentless killing that is going on as we speak) in this scenario, these cartels are only responding to the incentives set in front of them. If we want to take issue with anyone, we need to look at the laws that have been in place since 1924, and even back to 1914. Since then, these laws have only gotten more restrictive and deadlier to everyone involved in illicit drug trade.