The World Health Organization Revisited; Individual Rights

Two things today (4/17/20). First, there is a vast misunderstanding of the World Health Organization around the US. (WHO) It’s been promoted unwittingly by the President’s own seeming ignorance.

WHO operates on two different gears. In times of crisis, like now, it’s usually found wanting. That’s because the top of its hierarchy takes over at such times and the top is composed of political appointees. Their appointment is the object of backroom negotiations between various Third World tyrants, China, and others, included the US, who are usually distracted. The current head is an Ethiopian communist. How did that happen?

Most of the time, the work of WHO is performed by professionals with no strong or visible political inclinations. With them, WHO managed to practically eliminate the scourge of small-pox, to reduce greatly the reach and danger of malaria. WHO has also been the main force behind campaigns of vaccination, including in areas where strong resistance exists. (No, I don’t mean loopy Santa Cruz, where I live; I was thinking more of Pakistan.) The pennies WHO costs me personally each year are undoubtedly one of the best investments I have ever made, its recent missteps notwithstanding.

I think, and I hope, that the president’s suspension of the major American contributions to WHO is only a pleasantly devious way to get the head of its head.

Second topic. For what it’s worth, here are the two things that triggered me to make the C-virus second fiddle in the concert in my mind. First was, the prohibition on surfing in Santa Cruz. Now, I am a water man but I never surfed and my surfing days would be quite behind me anyway. That prohibition demonstrated the sheer irrationality presiding over such decisions. And the panic among officials. Alternatively, as several FB friends have pointed out, the prohibition might have been a hypocritical way to keep “outsiders” out of Santa Cruz. That would have been a gross abuse of power: Punish me for the evil others might do which the authorities probably don’t have the right to repress anyway. (Go ahead, speak it aloud.)

The other thing that turned my head around was the growing impression that governments at the state and local levels were demonstrating a royal contempt for civil rights. The prohibition of surfing in my town was a first signal. (See above.) Then I began to realize that denials of civil rights were happening all over this great country. This very morning, Rush Limbaugh played a recording of the governor of New Jersey declaring that questions about civil rights were “above his pay grade,” a governor of a large state. (And his political affiliation is…?)

What worked most into the deep recesses of my lazy mind were the mention of several prohibitions of religious gatherings in different parts of the country. Yes, they sounded reasonable, sort of, in health terms. And, yes I am an atheist (even though I actually am in a foxhole). But look, the First Amendment does not say, ” …except when there is a risk of sickness.” And, if you disagree you should openly ask for a suspension of the Constitution and let those who ask for and implement it eventually pay the political price.

There can be no unspoken exceptions to the constitutional democratic order. Can there be?

Mass shooting in perspective

Each of the past few years, about 35,000 Americans died in traffic accidents. This fact should be taken into account when considering recent massacres of civilians. I was wondering if anyone else would be cold hearted enough to go that way. So I waited a few days to comment on the massacres in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton, to avoid duplicating others’ commentaries. Plus, I have technical difficulties associated with my current location. Please, comment or wave if you see this.

Of the approximately 35,000 victims about half died in accidents involving alcohol. I will assume, against my thesis, that only 10,000 people each year died indirectly or directly because someone drank too much alcohol and drove.

How to count victims of mass shootings has become – strangely enough- controversial. Nevertheless, I am quite certain that shootings, specifically, of strangers for other than greed, or jealousy, or disappointed love have not caused 10,000 deaths in any of the past few years, not even close.

Do you agree; do you see where I am going?

So drunk drivers kill many more people – about 10,000 annually – than mass shooters. The victims of the ones are just as dead as the victims of the others; the loss and grief associated with the ones must be similar to those associated with the others. The deaths from one cause seem to me to be as meaningless as the deaths from the other. (That’s by contrast with the death of a firefighter in the line of duty, for example.)

A rational collective response should give priority to the avoidance of the many deaths from drunk driving over the much fewer deaths caused by mass assassins. Yet, the public reactions of the left are exactly the reverse of those rational expectations. In part, this inversion of priorities is due to the magnification the media affords mass shootings but not the slow massacre on the roads. In part, it may be due to the sometimes concentrated nature of the death tolls by mass shooting. This explanation, however, has only limited value because the small death toll at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, for example, was given much more publicity than is conceivable for any drunk driving accident with three lethal casualties.

This irrational ordering of priorities is made all the more puzzling by the fact that it would be much easier to reduce the number of deaths from drunk driving than by domestic mass shootings. Two reasons. First, people in jail can’t kill anyone with a car. The second reason is a little more subtle; bear with me.

Drunk drivers fall into two main categories, alcoholics who think they have to drive, and self-indulgent slobs. My intuition is that there are many more of the latter than of the former (especially among the young, who are overrepresented in car accidents) but I don’t have any figures. Self-indulgent slobs are capable of rational calculus. If the relevant punishment is severe enough and certain enough, they will become less self-indulgent. I used to be one of them. When the penalty for drunk driving went from about $100 to several thousand during my lifetime, I discovered that I could take a taxi, or pay a friend to drive me back, or drink at home. The quality of my life declined but it was worth it. It’s likely that my fear of heavy punishment saved someone’s life over the long run.

So, a credible remedial scheme is simple: withdrawal of driver’s license for a long period on the first offense associated with heavy fines for driving without a license. A significant jail term without possibility of parole would punish each subsequent infraction. Again, imprisoned drivers don’t kill anyone through their drunk driving. That’s a valid reason in itself to keep them locked up for a long time. It’s probably also economically reasonable.

So, I wonder why is there not a passionate public outcry on the political left and among its media partners in favor of a nation-wide remedial endeavor of the kind I just described?

Drunk driving kills many more Americans than do criminal mass shootings of the Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton kind. This, although suppressive remedies to drunk driving are conceptually straightforward. My friend Vernon Bohr pointed out in a comment on Facebook that accidental drownings of children alone claim more lives of all categories of Americans than do mass shootings. There are better priorities.

The indifference of the left to those more important preventable causes of mortality as compared to its display of strong collective emotion with respect to sudden death by shooting seems strange, on the surface. This strong emotion is usually, almost always associated with urgent calls for some sort of federal gun control.

The contrast is made all the more striking by the following legal facts: First, the regulation of behavior that is potentially harmful to others – such as driving automobiles – falls squarely within the purview of state legislatures, primarily, of Congress, secondarily. Number two, driving is nowhere a right, except by default. Possessing weapons, by contrast, is a right explicitly guaranteed by the US Constitution, and twice reaffirmed by the US Supreme Court.

So, why would the considerable emotional and political resources of the left, aptly guided by the mass media, be expanded on the deaths of comparatively few, on a problem that is difficult to understand, one whose resolution would also encounter strong legal obstacles? Why this relentless emphasis when there are obvious, bigger, more rational objects of collective compassion?

I am thinking of two answers. One, the unpredictability of shooting events make them seem more disruptive than the somewhat routinized highway deaths, including by drunk drivers. The logical implication of this explanation is that if mass shootings became more frequent, they would appear more routine, and thus, less disruptive, and less deserving of left-wing attention. Note that there is a long way to go between the few hundred annual casualties by mass killings, and the 10,000 I attribute to drunk driving alone.

Thus, mass shootings garner both attention and emotion – including on the left – precisely because they are comparatively rare. If this were correct, attention and emotion would diminish with an increased frequency of such events. That is not a trend I observe. Others may see it.

Two, the left, and its media component, may focus on mass shootings in preference to making more rational choices, not in spite of the legal obstacles in their path but because of them. In this perspective, the focus on mass shootings may not be an exercise in misguided compassion, but a means to a higher end.

Americans are, on the whole, much attached to their Constitution. Modifying it is an arduous and uncertain task. Shortcuts to this effect are much appreciated. It would be difficult to find a more effective shortcut than the guided emotionalism the left supplies on the occasion of each mass shooting perpetuated by an American who is not also a violent jihadist. The spectacle of perfectly innocent victims, including children, cut down by someone seemingly exercising his constitutional right to bear arms must be the most formidable nonrational argument against that constitutional right. It can be mustered to sidestep collective choices – such as further reductions in deaths by drunk drivers – that would make the most sense from the standpoint of simple compassion. Thus, a one tenth reduction in deaths by drunk driver, and the corresponding shrinking of human misery, would do about twice more good than would the total (total) elimination of mass shootings.

The outburst of emotionalism expertly guided by the media we witnessed following three civilian mass shootings in quick succession is not about compassion, it’s about power. Every reduction in the autonomy of individuals increases the power of government, of those who are in charge of it through legitimate political means, and of the permanent bureaucracy.

Incidentally, I suspect there must be libertarian solutions to the vast and continuing problem of death by drunk driver, solutions that don’t involve putting people in jail. I don’t know what those are. I would like to hear about them.

Why Hayek was Wrong about American and European Conservatism IV

Continuing a discussion from here inspired by F.A. Hayek’s essay ‘Why I am Not a Conservative’.

One central claim of Hayek’s essay is that American conservatism is not the same as European conservatism, as it is rooted in the classical liberalism of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. He notes that ‘European’ style conservatism exists in the US but claims it is an artificial import that looks odd. A really big problem here is Hayek’s assumption that there are native national forms of political culture which are authentic compared with alien intrusions. Of course national context and tradition are important, but that should not conceal understanding of pluralism, emergence from the margins of positions that have always been there, change, and influences across national frontiers.

Hayek’s talk of odd looking imports into American conservatism may cover Russell Kirk and William Buckley, both major influences on American conservatism in second half of the twentieth century and their influence lingers in central parts of US conservatism. Buckley’s conservatism was connected with his traditionalist Catholics. The founders of the American Republic were Protestants and anti-Catholicism has been a significant force in the United States until well into the 20th century.

Hayek himself was a person without religious belief from a Catholic culture who attributed great importance to the Catholicism of Alexis de Tocqueville and David Acton (see my comments in last post). He considered naming the Mont Pelerin Society the Acton-Tocqueville society, apparently because of the role Catholics played in the German groups resisting Hitler. This is all very strange, as it was certainly not only Catholics who resisted Hitler and there is no need to name a free market institution after a British and a French Catholic to get support from German liberals. Even leaving that aside there is an extraordinary tangle here with regard to how American conservatism relates to American and European religious traditions, along with the question of where Hayek fits.

Kirk brought Burkean conservatism into the US, where Burke’s most famous critic, Thomas Paine (what we might now call a left libertarian), is more associated with the early republican heritage. Of course, as I have pointed out, Hayek was a big Burke fan. So we see another tangle about how to connect American conservatism with Europe. In general the imports into American conservatism come from sources Hayek liked, Catholicism (though he was an atheist as well as divorced and twice married), and Burke. What was Hayek’s presence at the University of Chicago or his impact on US conservatives and libertarians then? Hayek was very much a late Habsburg in character, not at all American.

I also question how far US conservatism can be seen as an outgrowth of classical liberalism – distinct from a supposed European conservatism tied to non-liberal tradition and slowing down change. An account of American conservatism must acknowledge paleoconservatism along with paleolibertarianism, which are both outgrowths of neo-Confederate thought idealising the slave-holding and then white supremacist societies of the southern states, turning Abraham Lincoln into a villain. There is also southern Agrarianism, an idealisation of southern rural society. Most significantly for party politics, there is the tradition which goes back to the Bourbon Democrats (that is southern pro-slavery and segregationist Democrats) which became the Old Right of the Republican Party from which Ron Paul emerged.

We cannot go very far in discussing American conservatism without running into nostalgia for pre-liberal societies and organicist rural tradition, which looks remarkably like traditionalist conservatism in Europe. The early foundational documents of the American Republic are great things, but do not in themselves stand in the way of local illiberal communities undisturbed by the federal state. This is how slavery and then Jim Crow (segregationism and white supremacism) survived.

The story of an American system with a truly individualist, equal rights way-of-thinking enforced by the federal state for all only really starts with Abraham Lincoln (main text here is the Gettysburg Address of course, which in essence advocates ‘a new birth of freedom’ as the transformation of the union of states into a democratic nation), followed by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments which abolished slavery, gave the Federal state a bigger role in enforcing constitutional protections, and created a federal guarantee for voting rights.

Sadly the triumph of southern ‘Redemption’ over Congressional Reconstruction after the Civil war prevented proper protection of basic rights for African-Americans until the 1960s. Of course most American conservatives now see the slavery and Jim Crow periods as the wrong kind of conservatism, based on a failure to apply the best parts of constitutional and natural law thinking.

There are many other aspects to American conservatism, the important point is to emphasise that significant parts of it have been based on traditionalist admiration for pre-liberal communities and the violent state imposition of social hierarchies (often accompanied by illegal violence tolerated, or even encouraged by the state) denying basic rights to humans of the wrong ‘race’. This has also influenced the more ‘paleo’ forms of libertarianism.

However many good things we can find in the US constitution, it was not applied so as to guarantee citizen and personal rights for all more than a century and a half after its adoption. Its initial design incorporated measures to allow the persistence of slavery. Whatever one might think about its proper meaning, the reality is that veneration for it was not a barrier to slavery or Jim Crow, along with many other abuses.

Hayek was no doubt sincere in wishing to distinguish his thought from conservatism and I certainly do not think his best insights can be applied within a conservative framework, but clearly he prefers conservatism to the more radical republican end of liberal thought (which did have an impact on some of the best moments in American politics) and it is not a surprise that conservatives have found it easy to digest a version of Hayek. Hayek’s thoughts about European conservatism are inadequate and he becomes stuck in an extraordinary tangle in his view of American conservatism.

My brief thoughts on Ferguson

  • When I first heard the ruling, a few hours after it had been announced, I checked the webpages of the international press. Only two outlets – Germany’s Der Spiegel and Al-Jazeera‘s Arabic language webpage (its English and Turkish language websites were different stories) – had front page headlines not highlighting the riots in the US. The Turkish and British media had the most extensive coverage of events when I checked them out (again, this was a couple of hours after the ruling was announced).
  • The United States has a racist past, and a racist present, that has yet to be fully addressed. Tocqueville saw this coming in 1825. Reparations for stolen labor is the only way I can see this issue being resolved. I don’t see anything that needs to be fixed about black culture. Black culture is an important component of the United States and its image abroad. Every kid in every Ghanaian village knows who 2Pac, Nas, and Jay-Z are, and as a result they implicitly respect the people of the United States. Every teenager in every Chinese city knows who 2Pac, Nas, and Jay-Z are, and as a result they implicitly respect the people of the United States.
  • Ending the War on Drugs will also go a long way to addressing the issue of state-sponsored oppression.
  • Affirmative Action is what you get when you try to address state-sponsored oppression through the legislative process rather than through the judicial process. Few, if any, blacks benefit from AA, and the few who do are highly educated and do not reflect the general population of blacks in the US.
  • Nationalizing policing duties, or giving Washington a more prominent role in policing matters, is a horrible idea that needs to die a thousand, painful deaths.
  • The people who loot and damage private property should be pursued and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
  • There are few things that make me smile more than seeing a police car burning. I hope the bill comes out of the pensions – themselves extracted from the taxpayer by public sector unions – of policemen, though I know this will not happen.
  • I have seen a lot of white, Asian, and Hispanic faces at the protests. There are some blacks who have made a living in academia and in the activist world by claiming that non-blacks are more racist than blacks (“micro-aggression”). I hope these protests will convince the neutral black observer that racism is a structural issue in this country, not a cultural one. I think, through my own anecdotal experience, that most blacks are both neutral and implicitly understand that this is a structural issue.

“In Praise of Midterms”

That’s the title of this short blog post by Professor John McGinnis of Northwestern’s School of Law. An excerpt:

An op-ed in in The New York Times yesterday argued  that it would be a good idea to eliminate the midterms and the amend the Constitution in favor of longer terms for members of Congress.  They analogize the federal offices to state and local offices, like school boards, which have longer tenure. This argument gets things perversely backwards. We put checks on the power of the federal government in part to make it harder for the government to displace the more local ordering of state officials, thus preserving federalism.  The more  potentially powerful their political agents, the more opportunities the people need to check them.

The authors of the op-ed also argued that the President needs sufficient time to pursue his democratic mandate with a sympathetic Congress.  This point ignores the weakness of any Presidential mandate in the first place.   As Ilya Somin emphasizes in an excellent recent book, most voters are rationally ignorant of politics and do not have a strong grasp of the specific program of the candidate for whom they vote. Moreover, the vote takes place at a particular time with a specific mix of issues that may soon change. Often the vote is so close that the difference amounts to no mandate at all. Think Bush-Gore. Sometimes the result would have been different if the election had happened a week later. Think Carter-Ford. It is precisely because any election is only a blurry snapshot of democratic sentiment that it is essential to take more pictures.

[…]

Midterms are often lambasted because they allow more spending on yet more elections. But another perspective is that midterms provide an opportunity for people who do not influence politics for a living to band together and try to persuade their fellow citizens about which candidates and policies are better. It takes money to get out their message. But the alternative is a much more insular politics, shaped to an even greater extent by the symbolic class of the media and academics, a class that leans sharply to one side of the political spectrum. Not surprisingly most of the voices for curbing the midterms come from this crowd of the like-minded.

Besides celebrating the victory of any favorite candidate this evening, take some time to celebrate the Framers’ design. It permits citizens to better control their rulers and protects decentralized social ordering from evanescent passions.

The rest of his post is worth the click. McGinnis makes my point (first update) in a much more coherent fashion than I could ever hope to. See also this piece by Fred. Check out Rick’s and Warren’s thoughts on the voting process itself.

Libertarians and World Government, Part 3

I have briefly blogged about the problem libertarians face when confronted with world government and the inherent internationalism of their creed before (here and here), but none of those musings were as deep as I’d have liked them to be. I think I have a better understanding of this puzzle now, and therefore you’re gonna get a longer than usual post.

First up is the task of confronting the skepticism of all government that comes from most American libertarians. This is a skepticism that becomes all the more hostile as the level of government rises. So, for example, many libertarians are contemptuous of local government but don’t mind it all that much. This contemptuousness rises a little when the next level of government is involved: that of the administrative unit (in the US this is known as a “state” for reasons I hope to explain a little further below; elsewhere the administrative unit is usually known as a “province”). When the federal government is involved, in US politics, the libertarian becomes deeply suspicious and hostile to its intents and actions. Much of this is warranted, of course, and the American libertarian usually allows the federal level of government room to maneuver in matters of foreign policy and the courts (the two legitimate functions of the state).

When a level of governance rises up any further than that, though, to the regional level (NAFTA, CAFTA, etc.) or the supranational level (the UN, World Bank, EU, etc.), the animosity displayed towards government is vicious and reactionary rather than thoughtful and penetrating. Again, much of this is warranted, as these levels of governance usually act beyond the scope of democracy and seem only to serve the interests of those who belong to the regional and supranational organizations (unelected – i.e. politically appointed – bureaucrats). The nature of these “higher levels” of government is the main reason the patron saints of modern-day libertarians – the interwar economist Ludwig von Mises and the legal philosopher FA Hayek chief among them – were highly critical of the creation of these organizations (as well as the short-lived League of Nations).

It does not follow, however, that the inter- and post-war libertarians disavowed the earlier writings of classical liberals on world government. Indeed, Ludwig von Mises himself, in his 1927 book Liberalism (pdf), observed:

Just as, in the eyes of the liberal, the state is not the highest ideal, so it is also not the best apparatus of compulsion. The metaphysical theory of the state declares—approaching, in this respect, the vanity and presumption of the absolute monarchs—that each individual state is sovereign, i.e., that it represents the last and highest court of appeals. But, for the liberal, the world does not end at the borders of the state. In his eyes, whatever significance national boundaries have is only incidental and subordinate. His political thinking encompasses the whole of mankind. The starting-point of his entire political philosophy is the conviction that the division of labor is international and not merely national. He realizes from the very first that it is not sufficient to establish peace within each country, that it is much more important that all nations live at peace with one another. The liberal therefore demands that the political organization of society be extended until it reaches its culmination in a world state that unites all nations on an equal basis. For this reason he sees the law of each nation as subordinate to international law, and that is why he demands supranational tribunals and administrative authorities to assure peace among nations in the same way that the judicial and executive organs of each country are charged with the maintenance of peace within its own territory.

For a long time the demand for the establishment of such a supranational world organization was confined to a few thinkers who were considered utopians and went unheeded. To be sure, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the world repeatedly witnessed the spectacle of the statesmen of the leading powers gathered around the conference table to arrive at a common accord, and after the middle of the nineteenth century, an increasing number of supranational institutions were established, the most widely noted of which are the Red Cross and the International Postal Union. Yet all of this was still a very far cry from the creation of a genuine supranational organization. Even the Hague Peace Conference signified hardly any progress in this respect. It was only the horrors of the World War that first made it possible to win widespread support for the idea of an organization of all nations that would be in a position to prevent future conflicts. (147-148)

What Mises and other interwar liberals missed in regards to establishing a supranational state is the very nature of the US constitution. Interwar liberals were more interested in pointing out the blatant inconsistencies of the multilateral institutions being erected after the war than they were with elaborating upon the idea of a world state. My guess is that they viewed the world state as too far out of reach for their goals at the time, and thus fell back on the ‘balance of power’ option (pdf) that was still popular among liberals at the time. The US constitution is, at its core, a pact between sovereign states to join together politically for the mutual self-interests of foreign affairs and legal standardization (a standardization that is very minimal, as it allows for plenty of flexibility and competition).

This pact, aside from explaining why US administrative units are known as ‘states’ rather than ‘provinces,’ is the key to slowly building a world state that is both representative and liberal (in that it exists to protect the rights of individuals first and foremost).

One of the biggest weaknesses of the US constitution to date is its inability to expand upon the notion that it is a legal charter outlining the duties of a supranational organization. Creating a mechanism that allows for the recognition of foreign provinces  as US member states by incorporating them into the federal apparatus would be a step in the right direction. This mechanism would obviously have to be slowed down in some way. It would have to be approved, for example, by two-thirds of all state legislatures (Utah and California say ‘Yes’ while Georgia says ‘No’) as well as two-thirds of both legislative bodies in the federal government (67% ‘Yes’ vote from both the House and the Senate).

There would also have to be a mechanism allowing for states in the federal union to exit if they so pleased (again in a way that is slow and deliberate so that as many factions as possible could have their voices heard). Contra to some musings by paleolibertarians here in the US, the constitution and the Bill of Rights actually has a sophisticated method of dealing with intrastate conflict within its sphere of jurisdiction; secession is allowed between states, as is the merging of two or more states, although secession from the federal government is so far prohibited (this failing would also have to be addressed before a world state could be contemplated).

It seems to me that the US has practiced unpolished versions of my argument in the past. Texas, for example, seceded from Mexico before becoming a US “state” through annexation.

Does any of this make sense, or do I just sound like a mad man?

Heads up Pennsylvanians you just became less free!

Cops can now search your car without a warrant in Pa.

So much for due process?  Or unreasonable search and siezure…
That’s right, not only do police have the legal authority (thanks positivists!) to search a vehicle with absolutely no cause whatsoever but you can be arrested and charged for the simple act of having “secret compartments” in your vehicle.  I will leave it up to you to decide if this power will be abused or not.

Abstract Ideas Don’t Deserve Patents [NY Times]

In preparation for something special that I will finally complete this week (Rothbard willing) lets talk about this editorial from the New York Times.

 

The article starts accurately enough explaining the US government’s monopoly power of ideas saying:

The Constitution gives Congress the power to grant inventors a temporary monopoly over their creations to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.”

 

I am actually shocked at the strong language used here, the four letter word “monopoly” is rarely used in reference to any government service.  At least in polite company.  I would also like to point out the subjective language quoted from the constitution.  “Useful arts”.  Useful to whom?  To the inventor?  To consumers?  To the government?  To humanity?  Like most state activities the ability to decide what is “useful” is left to bureaucrats in service to the government rather than in the free market where useful services will generate profits and those that generate disuse (or disutility) are met with losses.  Back to the article though:

“But in recent years, the government has too often given patent protection to inventions that do not represent real scientific advances.”

 

No argument there.  The “copyright troll” phenomenon is more than enough to make this libertarian squeamish.  Where is this editorial going I wonder?

  “The issue in this case, Alice Corporation Pty. v. CLS Bank International, is whether using a computer to implement a well-established economic concept can be patented. The court should rule that such ideas are not eligible for patent protection.

 

Alice Corporation obtained four American patents that cover a method of settling trades between investors in currency and other financial markets. The approach depends on a neutral middleman to make sure traders complete the transactions they have agreed to. The corporation, which is based in Australia, has accused CLS Bank, a London-based company that settles foreign exchange trades for investors around the world, of infringing its patents.”  

To make a long story short the US patent office granted the Alice Corporation a copyright on a form of interaction between a buyer, a middleman and a seller.  An absurd concept to be sure.  Now the question is what does the editorial suggest?

“The Supreme Court should make clear that nobody should be allowed to claim a monopoly over an abstract idea simply by tying it to a computer.”

I agree; but why stop there?  Why the artificial endpoint of “abstract ideas tied to a computer”?  If we shouldn’t allow patents on abstract ideas what would the author suggest if we proved that all ideas are necessarily abstract and therefore not able to be owned, sold, or monopolized?  Would he follow his logic to the conclusion that perhaps all patents are invalid?

A taste of local flavor: Remington Outdoor Company to announce major expansion to Huntsville

Remington Outdoor Company to announce major expansion to Huntsville

“The site will rank with ROC’s largest facilities. Ilion, N.Y., is home to the largest facility at more than 1 million square feet, followed by other sites such as its ammunition plant in Lonoke, Ark., and its factory in Mayfield, Ky.

Sources say manufacturing operations in Ilion will not be affected by the expansion and there are no plans to move manufacturing from that site, where Remington has been building firearms for nearly 200 years.”

I have to wonder how much Governor Cuomo’s anti-gun policies contributed to this decision.  We will see if Remington holds true to their word but this author is predicting the Ilion factory to be gone in the next five years.

I would also like to suggest that any New Yorkers check out this page for information on anti-gun restriction protests happening this spring.  While they are not a libertarian organization there is some semblance of solidarity.

Lost Innocence.

One of the defining features of a “free society” is that the citizens in such a society are innocent of crimes unless proven otherwise by a body that can be trusted to be impartial in its deliberations. In other words, the right to a fair trial and the belief in innocence until guilt is proven. This natural right was guaranteed to United States citizens in the U.S. BIll of Rights under the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments of the Constitution.

Time and again in modern America that right is ignored by those whose job it is to protect it. Recently a particularly vile example took place near Houston, Texas. The article speaks for itself but to make a long story short police invaded the personal lives and property of two individuals under no legal pretense. The message is clear, we are not secure in our persons or our properties if the police decide we are of particular interest to them. These officers will likely go unpunished and even if disciplinary measures are taken they will not be the same measures as if, lets say, I removed two people from a car at gun point, bound them, and held them hostage for eleven hours. There are two sets of laws, one for the people and the other for the state.

Blind Faith

By Adam Magoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

First:

“Always, always get a receipt.”

This, as he says, is obvious.

Second:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Fermeture du gouvernement fédéral

Le gouvernement fédéral est fermé, enfin, en partie, enfin, un peu. C’est arrivé parce que les deux grands partis n’arrivent pas à se mettre d’accord sur le budget a venir. Jusqu’ici, on prend encore au sérieux ici la disposition constitutionelle qui fait du parlement la seule institution capable de décider du budget fédéral. Le Président peu tonitruer et pleurnicher tout ce qu’il veut; il n’est pas encore prêt à violer la constitution aussi visiblement.

Le gouvernement fédéral a été obligé de séparer ses fonctionaires entre les “essentiels” et les “non essentiels” pour décider qui mettre temporairement à pied. C’est un pas en avant pour le jour ou on fera vraiment le ménage.Il y a beaucoup trop de fonctionnaire fédéraux et ils sont trop payés; ils possèdent aussi trop de privilèges économiques inexpliqués.

Au raz du sol, la vie continue comme d’habitude sauf que le parc national du Grand Canyon a été fermé pendant quelques jours. La Bourse, elle, a haussée les épaules malgré les avertissements de Fin du Monde de l’administration Obama relayés et amplifiés par les presses étrangères aussi ignorantes que bebêtes.

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Why Dr Delacroix, I am flattered. Usually only Leftists change the subject when they are stumped. This argument must hold a special place in your heart.

As I said in a response you may have missed, our discussion is probably useful. At its heart lie the issues of credibility and criticality.

Fair enough.

Congressman Paul; volunteered in a debate that the armed forces spent “30″ billions on air conditioning in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Um, I guess it’s up to me to let you know that you gave yourself an extra ten billion to work with here. Awwwkkward! You originally stated that Ron Paul used $20 billion, not $30 billion. It is of little concern to me that you fudged this number, though, because I know you are a dinosaur rather than a cheater. Your new criteria, once it is restored to the original $20 billion, states that air conditioning and all of the costs associated with it in both Iraq and Afghanistan account for around five percent of the 2010 budget.

That’s absurd? Really? Have you ever heard of the United States Postal Service? What about the Department of Housing and Urban Development? How about Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac? Five percent.

I note that if the US armed forces spend 6 or 7 % [or even 5%!!!] of the money I give them for military operations on air conditioning, they might have some explaining to do. That fact in itself sure wouldn’t be an argument for pulling out of either country.

You are absolutely right about that. Now, did Ron Paul use the air conditioning numbers to argue that our troops should come home, or did he use them to argue that Washington’s spending is totally out of control?

The reason I think you are desperate, Dr Delacroix, is that you are focused on such an irrelevant statement. I mean, for Christ’s sake, I Googled “Ron Paul air conditioning statement” and got a few right-wing webpages screaming that Ron Paul wanted to stop letting troops have air conditioning. Notice that they didn’t actually argue about the number Paul cited. You are quite possibly the only person on the planet who is fixated on this number.

Accusing libertarians of being dogmatic because they will vote for Ron Paul is disingenuous, too. All one has to do is go over to the ‘comments’ section of Reason magazine’s webpage to find out all sorts of opinions on Ron Paul’s policies. I suspect I know why you accuse libertarians of being dogmatic, and I will get back to this shortly.

But first, I want to make it crystal-clear that you are free to vote for whomever you like. You can vote for the guy who thinks that ObamaCare has been great for Massachusetts. You can vote for the guy who thinks the Taliban will be a part of Libya’s next government. You can vote for the guy who thinks that the earth was created six thousand years ago. Or you can vote for the guy who thinks that a national energy plan would reduce the world’s supply of oil coming from the Middle East.

Secondly, I want to make it crystal-clear that I don’t agree with everything Ron Paul says or does. I think criticism is a good thing. Instead of making an ass out of yourself by hooting and hollering about an air conditioning number he cited, though, I think it would be more constructive to talk about his opposition to NAFTA as being “managed trade.” Or his calls to eliminate birthright citizenship from the constitution. Or the racist newsletters that circulated through the South under his name in the 1990′s. Perhaps these things are enough for you not to vote for him. I hope you will be happy with one of the alternatives that the GOP offers.

But let us speak no more of intellectual dishonesty. Nor should we speak anymore of Ron Paul’s confidence in himself and his dogmatism. Allow me to illustrate this in a not-so-nice-but-illuminating-nevertheless kind of way. You said:

Your rebuttal of my answer to the constitutional issue about who can start a war makes no sense. If two joint resolutions of Congress embodied in two public laws are not constitutional measures, I don’t know what is and I am not equipped to pursue the topic.

*sniff* *sniff*

I smell something…

*sniff* *sniff* *sniff*

I. *sniff* Smell. *sniff* BULLSHIT!

I am not quite ready to make you bleed yet. I do not want to make you bleed, but your dogmatic insistence that we fight every fight around the world and your intellectual dishonesty (or cowardice) concerning the constitutionality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are too dangerous to let pass. But first:

Congressman Paul’s carelessness in this matter he chose to discuss however is enough of a reason to mistrust his judgment. And, of course,there is always the option of saying quickly,” I misspoke in the heat of the discussion.” This kind of admission usually endears candidates to the general public doing them more good than harm. However, Paul has no doubt. I suspect he has no doubts about anything.

Yours is probably the most articulate criticism I have heard yet regarding Ron Paul’s political positions, so it merits a good, thoughtful response. Keep in mind your newfound ignorance regarding The Rule of Law and your incessant calls for an active – no matter what! – overseas presence when I present my case. Also, keep in mind that you and your readers are free to vote for the guy who wants to implement a national energy plan to reduce the world’s supply of oil from the Middle East.

The idea that Paul knows everything about anything is one that sure does look a lot like dogmatism at first glance. But Ron Paul will be the first to claim that he does not know everything. That’s why he insists that everything go through the Constitutional process – including overseas activities. That is to say, Ron Paul’s idea of dogmatism is to adhere to The Rule of Law. Imagine that!

If you can provide me some examples of him suggesting otherwise, or that he knows better than everybody else and is therefore qualified to flaunt The Rule of Law, then by all means provide it here. Otherwise, I think it would now be a good idea to focus back on the calls made by you to go to war in Rwanda, or the Balkans, or Iraq, or North Korea, or Venezuela at the first sign of trouble.

I want to take us back to issue of dogmatism and intellectual dishonesty really quickly. In a previous reply you stated the following:

On moral responsibility, I chose Rwanda of an extreme case where it would have been easy to intervene productively at little cost or risk. That’s what this country did we respect to the beginning genocide of Kosovars against a much more powerful and sophisticated oppressor.

Your words speak for themselves on the Rwanda genocide.

Your moral indignation towards those of us who would leave the problems of others to themselves may be understandable, but first I have to ask you a quick question (this will be the second time I have done so): which side of the Rwandan war should we have intervened on behalf of? I think it would be pertinent to remember that you are answering the question against the backdrop of a conversation that is centered around dogmatism and intellectual dishonesty. And please, remember that this is a conversation that is also trying to gauge the level humility that each of us has when it comes to recognizing the sheer ignorance that each of us has on any number of issues.

Or would you just simply send our troops to Rwanda with no clear-cut goals, except to stop the fighting between the Hutus and the Tutsis? I think that a demand from libertarians for our politicians to adhere to the Rule of Law hardly qualifies as dogmatic. I think that a demand from hawks for our politicians to do more overseas regardless of the Rule of Law does qualify as dogmatic. Thus to the hawk, the libertarian is dogmatic because he demands that the hawk adhere to the Rule of Law. I can see how you have become confused on the issue now.

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

As I said in a response you may have missed, our discussion is probably useful. At its heart lie the issues of credibility and criticality.

Congressman Paul volunteered in a debate that the armed forces spent “30″ billions on air conditioning in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Mr Paul as a congressman and as a presidential candidate is responsible for anything he choses to say. It matters not if the thinks he got this info from a reliable source. You and I equally do not care much about the substantive meaning of the figure. However, if it’s absurd on its face is absurd on its face, his repeating it speaks to his criticality or to his intellectual honesty. Both qualities are important in a presidential candidate, I think. And, of course, I am leery of the dogmatism of Libertarians. Sometimes or often, it makes them unable to spot absurdity. Thus, the discussion of this Paul affirmation is not absurd.

The $30 figure for air conditioning needs to be applied to operational costs of the DOD, not to the total budget. The latter includes research and development and big obligations to military personnel not connected to any campaign, veterans’ benefits, for example. Operational costs properly defined constitute about 60% of total budget. Applying these figures to 2010, a high budget year, I find that the alleged air conditioning expenses cited by Ron Paul amount to 6% to 7 % of military expenditures in Iraq and in Afghanistan, not the 3% you state. That is absurd.

I note that if the US armed forces spend 6 or 7 % of the money I give them for military operations on air conditioning, they might have some explaining to do. That fact in itself sure wouldn’t be an argument for pulling out of either country.

Congressman Paul’s carelessness in this matter he chose to discuss however is enough of a reason to mistrust his judgment. And, of course,there is always the option of saying quickly, “I misspoke in the heat of the discussion.” This kind of admission usually endears candidates to the general public doing them more good than harm. However, Paul has no doubt. I suspect he has no doubts about anything.

I suspect that Congressman Paul’s enthusiastic rigidity accounts for the fairly high poll figures he regularly enjoys. I am guessing that it is also responsible for the fact that his numbers have not moved in months of campaigning. There are zealots and there are others. Again, I regret this situation because we have so much in common in about every other area.

Your rebuttal of my answer to the constitutional issue about who can start a war makes no sense. If two joint resolutions of Congress embodied in two public laws are not constitutional measures, I don’t know what is and I am not equipped to pursue the topic.

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

What price for imperial peace?

Is it the case that you endorse and confirm the statement Ron Paul made voluntarily, on his own that he armed forces spend $20 billion a year on air conditioning in Iraq and in Afghanistan?

Dude, this is the most absurd subject to be talking about. You’re splitting hairs. You’re getting desperate! However, if I must, I endorse his claim. I cannot confirm it because I do not think I have the resources to do so. If I do have the resources to do so, I do not have the skills necessary to do so. Let’s put this in yet another perspective, since you won’t take a former Brigadier General/West Point graduate/logistician’s rough estimate seriously.

The Department of Defense’s 2010 base budget was almost $664 billion. The former Brigadier General said that $20 billion is spent on air conditioning (he included raw fuel, transport, and security in his estimate). My calculator is telling me, then, that the total amount of money spent on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan consumes about three percent of the DoD’s annual budget (if we are to take the former Brigadier General’s estimates seriously). Given that we have been occupying a state that is located in one of the hottest areas of the world, I do not think that this is such an absurd estimate. However, if you able to provide me with some official figures then I will retract my endorsement of this statement and condemn Ron Paul to a demagogic hell.

About Gingrich’s alleged misstatements, I don’t know what you mean. Please, stop treating as obvious what others may not have seen, heard of, or noticed or may not exist at all.

I confess that I have not watched any of the debates. I go to school all day and work all night. There is no rest for the wicked! Since you want some sort of proof that Newt Gingrich is an ignoramus, I will refer you to his campaign page on foreign policy – oops! I mean national security – for an example. Number 5 on his list of things to do is “implement an American Energy Plan to reduce the world’s dependence on oil from dangerous and unstable countries, especially in the Middle East.” Got that Dr Delacroix? Implement an American energy plan to reduce the world’s dependence on oil from blah blah blah. I am deliberately choosing to bypass the absurdities associated with his calls for “energy independence,” of course.

Just for your readers’ sake, I think it would be a good idea to contrast this with Ron Paul’s official statement on dangerous and unstable sources of oil. First of all, I had to go to the “Energy” page, not the “National Defense” page, to find out about his thoughts on foreign sources of oil.
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There was nothing at all said about foreign sources of oil. Not a goddamn word, Dr Delacroix. Yet you slander him as an isolationist.

However, they take us a long way from your original statement on the illegality, the unconstitutional character of these wars.

I’m going to ask you for a third time (not that I’m keeping track or anything): what part of “only Congress can declare war” don’t you understand?!

Perhaps a different angle can be used to illustrate my point on this issue: the Department of Education was created by an act of Congress, so does that make it constitutional? It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question (unless you’re a Leftist, of course).

On moral responsibility, I chose Rwanda of an extreme case where it would have been easy to intervene productively at little cost or risk. That’s what this country did we respect to the beginning genocide of Kosovars against a much more powerful and sophisticated oppressor.

Your words speak for themselves on the Rwanda genocide.

Your comparison between the mess in the Balkans and the mess in the African Great Lakes region is, like your comparison between the U.S. and Libya, superficial at best.

I’ll keep this brief. The Balkans are in Europe and neighbor a sizable number of allied states, and we picked sides (losing Russia in the process) before we started bombing.

may be willing to concede that non-intervention is an immoral doctrine if you can answer me this simple question: which side of the Rwandan war should we have picked?