The Libertarian Standard » Non-Fiction Reviews http://libertarianstandard.com Property - Prosperity - Peace Sat, 19 Jul 2014 20:32:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 A new website and group blog of radical Austro-libertarians, shining the light of reason on truth and justice. The Libertarian Standard clean The Libertarian Standard thelibertarianstandard@gmail.com thelibertarianstandard@gmail.com (The Libertarian Standard) CC-BY Property - Prosperity - Peace libertarianism, anarchism, capitalism, free markets, liberty, private property, rights, Mises, Rothbard, Rand, antiwar, freedom The Libertarian Standard » Non-Fiction Reviews http://libertarianstandard.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://libertarianstandard.com/category/reviews/nonfic-reviews/ TV-G Walter Block Says Legalize Blackmail http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/22/walter-block-says-legalize-blackmail/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/22/walter-block-says-legalize-blackmail/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 03:34:38 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12842 blackmailI was fortunate enough to get a PDF preview of Walter Block’s new book, Legalize Blackmail, before it was published, and today I was delighted to receive my hardcover copy in the mail.

The book is a collection of  Block’s essays on the subject of blackmail — specifically, why he believes it should be legal as a matter of libertarian principle — including rebuttals of many other scholars’ opinions. It’s the most thorough libertarian treatment of this subject that has ever been published or, I am  confident, ever will be. And because it’s from Block, it’s a great read besides.

As I say in a blurb on the book’s back cover: “If you want to understand the libertarian position on blackmail, read this book. If you’ve taken it for granted that we need laws against blackmail, Walter Block will challenge your assumptions with provocative arguments you’ll find difficult to refute.”

Order it here.

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Habeas Corpus in America http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/16/habeas-corpus-in-america/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/16/habeas-corpus-in-america/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 16:16:23 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12831 Adobe Photoshop PDFReview of The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on Terror by Anthony Gregory. Cambridge University Press and the Independent Institute, 2013.

Anthony Gregory is a great friend of mine, and I am honored to have the opportunity to review briefly his splendid new book, Habeas Corpus in America.

A few comments about the book itself are in order before sojourning through the content. First, it is a beautiful volume. I suppose we can thank Cambridge University Press for that. The cover itself contains the text of Abraham Lincoln’s order to suspend habeas during the Civil War – a very nice visual touch. The forward is written by the erudite constitutional scholar Kevin Gutzman. The book is written in three parts: history of habeas corpus, application of habeas corpus after 9/11, and a section titled “Custody and Liberty” exploring the future of habeas. Multiple appendices then analyze various habeas cases, and the customary selected bibliography and historical term explanations follow. It is long, thorough, sweeping, and powerful – but also pretty expensive. I suppose we can thank Cambridge University Press for that as well.

Habeas corpus is generally understood as the legal right not to be detained arbitrarily by the government. It is considered a foundational principle of Western legal systems, even of natural law itself. Still, habeas corpus is widely misunderstood, especially on a historical level. Anthony Gregory’s work on the history of habeas corpus and its application in America levels a damning charge against the American federal government and challenges the reader to reconsider the common assumption that the federal government protects liberty by showing how and why they abridge this fundamental right.

In the history section, Gregory explains that the origins of habeas corpus are not as simple as we are generally taught. Writs had traditionally been used by governments to command obedience. Contra the oft-assumed pure libertarian origins of the writ of habeas corpus, habeas was initially a privilege of the nobility in England. The Magna Carta itself was pushed upon King John by the Barons of Runnymede for their own personal protection. Expanding the writ to all citizenry took considerable time, and highlights the mixed and often paradoxical history of habeas in the West.

Habeas corpus emerged in America as a revolutionary rallying point. Gregory writes in Chapter 3:

Not only did habeas radicalize the colonists; the colonists soon radicalized habeas, extracted from it the purest pro-liberty element at the core of the judicial writ, and adopted through practice a libertarian version of the writ that prevailed in the late colonial era up until the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. First the colonists had to claim the writ as their own, which happened not so much through inheritance from Britain but with indifference or even hostility toward formal English institutions.

Compared to most other habeas corpus episodes, the initial expansion of habeas in America was a bottom-up affair. Nevertheless, over time the federal government acquired the means to do with habeas whatever they willed. Indeed, built into the Constitution itself is a mechanism to destroy habeas: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” (Article I, Section 9) During the debates on adoption of the Constitution, anti-federalists decried this language as unduly granting power to the federal apparatus, since it alone would hold the power to determine when someone was acting in “rebellion” and that “public safety” required suspension of habeas. The clause also highlights that this power is a government privilege. In other words, you do not have a right not to be detained arbitrarily, but rather this is something you get from the government. What the government gives, of course, it can also take away. Thus we see that habeas corpus as a government power throws us into a paradox: Can the government be expected to wield such power justly when it alone has the power to rule when it is a party to the case?

Indeed, multiple incidents through America’s history shows that at no time has the federal government been incapable of justifying suspension of habeas when their plans require it. Whether the military commissions of Abraham Lincoln, the detention of Japanese-Americans in World War 2, or the indefinite detentions of the Bush-Obama era, where the feds have will they will make up a way.

Again, the American experience suggests that the history of habeas corpus is complicated and somewhat contradictory given its importance both in our shared cultural tradition and in concrete reality. Habeas corpus is both overvalued and undervalued, sometimes for right reasons and sometimes for wrong reasons. Fundamentally, the principle stands but this society must change if habeas abuses are to be righted. To Gregory, the end-game solution is simple: “A society needs more than the judicial order to secure its freedom. It needs to value that freedom in itself.” Understanding the history and application of habeas corpus is only part of the solution, the next is to change the culture from the inside.

Anthony Gregory’s excellent book pushes the truth about habeas corpus and the atrocities of governments forward. I am confident that any student of legal history and of freedom philosophy will find his work very beneficial.

This post was originally published on LibertarianChristians.com on January 16, 2014.

Note: This book is a bit pricey, so if you do not think you will purchase it, encourage your local library to check it out to spread Anthony’s great work!

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Maybe It’s Not Paranoia If We’re All Paranoid: A Review of Jesse Walker’s New Book http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/09/10/maybe-its-not-paranoia-if-were-all-paranoia-a-review-of-jesse-walkers-new-book/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/09/10/maybe-its-not-paranoia-if-were-all-paranoia-a-review-of-jesse-walkers-new-book/#comments Wed, 11 Sep 2013 01:54:01 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12674 9780062135551_custom-b59aef367c02e28f5b19c4597390912eb7cbf621-s6-c30The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, by Jesse Walker, HarperCollins, 448 pages, $25.99

Circa 2009, in a fit of 1990s nostalgia that should make BuzzFeed proud — and motivated in part by a clunky Department of Homeland Security paper — some of the left decided that incidents like the murder of abortion provider George Tiller, the shooting death of a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and the lingering rumor that Obama was a Muslim from Kenya meant that the right couldn’t handle a black, Democrat president without losing their Goddamned racist, fascist, conspiratorial minds. It wasn’t true, but it made great headlines and cable news concern-trolling. In a while the left cooled off a bit. (They didn’t even blame any right-wing pundits for the schooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school!) But the notion of a paranoid (loosely-defined) right remains (and will forever, if the Southern Poverty Law Center has anything to say about it).

Talking about paranoia or conspiracies is not as simple as Birthers, Truthers, or even the fair-is-fair point that the left has big fears, too. (Or that paranoia about the paranoid may count as paranoia!) There are a lot more baseless or exaggerated fears dwelling deep in a lot more humans than any partisan could ever admit. And, writes Reason magazine books editor Jesse Walker in his new book, that fear has been with us since before America was the United States.

To make our long history of hiding and screaming in terror easier to filter, Walker divides his types of conspiracy theories into five groups: the Enemy Outside (say, rogue Indians and scheming Catholics), the Enemy Within (Commies, Satanists, anyone quietly scheming), the Enemy Below (slave rebellions, populist uprisings), the Enemy Above (the state! And corporations, and Illuminati, and Bilderbergs, anyone powerful who secretly runs everything and may even be inciting the faceless mobs in their own supposedly organic outrages), and the Benevolent Conspiracy (angels, friendly aliens, and benevolent puppetmasters and societies). And there are scads of examples of each, surprising numbers for a book that isn’t about any of those one things. Indeed, there is so much of interest in United States of Paranoia that its biggest problem might just be a reader’s desire to stop a minute and talk even more about this or that specific thing. Any chapter could have made a whole, adsorbing book in itself.

Because while strolling through American history, Walker manages to mention almost every seemingly random, fascinating bit of human endeavor possible, including, but not limited to: the myth of the superchief Indian, the meaning of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the multilayered interpretations of Rambo, aliens, Satan´s influence on Your Children and Women, plenty of communists, fears of commie and gay conspiracies, real conspiracies like COINTELPRO, and a bracing defense of (most) militias. Indeed, one of Walker’s most fascinating chapters is the one where he explores the New World Order/Illuminati fears that bridged ´90s militia and black nationalist movements.

The simplest, most convenient libertarian takeaway in these pages is that a lot more people are paranoid than your average loony — say, the cheap caricature of a libertarian writing anti-government manifestos, then piloting a plane into an IRS building (or something). We´re not alone, fellow residents of government watch lists! That´s the thing about United States of Paranoia, anyone, libertarian or not, could read it in two ways: optimism that the oft-cackled critique of ¨you’re paranoid!¨ can be directed at at least every other human; pessimism, or actual alarm, that this many people over this many years have let their fears turn into sometimes-real monsters that kill or at least ruin lives.

But instead of worrying about that, maybe just follow Walker´s lead, and enjoy the journey — the often-creative myth-making and the psychology of paranoid tales and what they say about us. Walker´s a big fan of the late Robert Anton Wilson, and another of his best chapters discusses Wilson and the Discordians and other folks who got into conspiracy theories for their weirdness, not for any Grand Explanation of All Things. (Paranoia as art! Finally an understanding of my inability to be be outraged over Alex Jones, not matter how horrible he is for libertarianism!)

Walker´s writing style is brainy, but off-kilter and  quietly funny, like the man himself. Any creeping libertarian propaganda is in short, subtle supply. There’s nothing much here to turn off the readers who might disagree with Walker’s politics. The story he tells is captivating, human, bizarre, and endlessly surprising, in short, accessible to all but  the most ardent Southern Poverty Law Center employee or sincere user of the word “sheeple.”

The entire book filled me with a strange fondness for America, simply because of the strange creativity of many of these myths. Yes, paranoia run amok can cause real casualties (ask Giles Cory, or parents in Kern County, California). But seeing patterns, conspiracies, and cabals is normal; as is building up our enemies, be they small, or entirely imaginary, into something vast and all-powerful and terrifying. This is who we are, we humans. And Walker’s exploration of the normalcy of this fear should make us all a little less paranoid.

But it won’t.

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The War on Drugs is a War on Freedom http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/12/14/the-war-on-drugs-is-a-war-on-freedom/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/12/14/the-war-on-drugs-is-a-war-on-freedom/#comments Fri, 14 Dec 2012 15:57:44 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12095 http://mises.org/store/Assets/ProductImages/B1035.jpgBook review of The War on Drugs is a War on Freedom by Laurence Vance. Vance Publications, 2012. Orlando, FL. $9.95 at Amazon.com. Cross-posted from LibertarianChristians.com.

To many newcomers to libertarian ideas – especially Christians – it is not always perfectly clear why libertarians oppose the War on Drugs so strenuously. Some Christians even think that the only reason libertarians oppose government prohibition is so that they can get high legally. Nothing could be further from the truth. Simply put, we despise government prohibition because it is a power no government should have. Moreover, the War on Drugs is an incredible example of precisely how a government usurps liberty, destroys lives, and consolidates power unto itself. This short book by Dr. Laurence Vance, writer at LCC, LewRockwell.com, Mises.org, and the Future of Freedom Foundation, explains in great detail why everyone should oppose the War on Drugs .

Vance begins the introduction by giving his purpose in collecting these essays into book form:

This is not a book about the benefits of drugs; this is a book about the benefits of freedom. I neither use illegal drugs nor recommend their use to anyone else. I am even skeptical about the health benefits of most legal drugs.

So why this book? Because I believe in freedom. I believe in individual liberty, private property, personal responsibility, a free market, a free society, and a government as absolutely limited as possible.

The book then contains 19 essays, written over the past 4 years, that tackle the War on Drugs from a variety of angles. A few common themes resonate throughout the book:

1. The War on Drugs is unconstitutional. You would think that “conservatives” who support the United States Constitution would readily admit when the Federal government has overstepped its bounds, but such is rarely the case. Still, the Feds do not follow their own rules, and we should point this out whenever possible. Substance prohibition has never been constitutional.

2. The War on Drugs is a total failure. It has clogged the judicial system and incarcerated completely innocent people, instigated worldwide violence, corrupted law enforcement, eroded civil liberties, and destroyed financial privacy. Additionally, it hasn’t even been able to prevent drugs from getting into prisons much less the general population. By any standard of “helping” anyone, the War on Drugs has completely failed. To me, those in jail for possession of illegal drugs – assuming they have not committed a violent act – are prisoners of war and deserve to be liberated immediately.

3. Drug abuse is a health issue, not a legal issue. If you oppose government intrusion into health care, then there is no reason at all to support the War on Drugs. It is not the government’s business to dictate health issues to you.

4. The War on Drugs is a war on the ideals of liberty and a free society. Actions that are not aggressive in nature have no business being prohibited by government. Vices are not crimes, and it is not the purpose of government to monitor the behavior of citizens like a nanny! The War on Drugs is a perfect example of why government intrusion into people’s lives does nothing but harm. In order to ward off “vices” like illicit drugs, the government must continuously undermine liberty.

Vance even has an essay for why Christians should oppose the War on Drugs. Yes, Christians are free to consider drug abuse a great evil, but such evil should not be compounded by a drug war that is an even greater evil. Vance argues that Christians are both inconsistent and immoral for calling upon the state to punish non-crimes:

It is not the purpose of Christianity to use force or the threat of force to keep people from sinning. Christians who are quick to criticize Islamic countries for prescribing and proscribing all manner of behavior are very inconsistent when the support the same thing [in the United States]. A Christian theocracy is just as unscriptural as an Islamic theocracy.

Now more than ever we Christians ought to expose the War on Drugs for what it is: a War on Freedom. Laurence Vance concisely brings you a wealth of information to educate you on the issues, and I highly recommend this book to any believer anywhere.

Interested in learning more? Check out The War on Drugs is a War on Freedom at Amazon.com.

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Book Review: Liberty of Contract http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/06/28/book-review-liberty-of-contract/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2012/06/28/book-review-liberty-of-contract/#comments Fri, 29 Jun 2012 02:29:13 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=11302 Last year saw the release of two books on the U.S. courts’ history of (not) protecting the liberty of contract: David Bernstein’s Rehabilitating Lochner and David N. Mayer’s Liberty of Contract: Rediscovering a Lost Constitutional Right.

My review of Bernstein’s book appeared in the Winter 2012 Independent Review; my review of Mayer’s book has just been published in The Freeman.

Which book is better? I couldn’t say. Both cover a lot of the same ground, and both are well-done. (Oddly, both were published at about the same time, and both appear to have been sponsored by the Cato Institute, though Bernstein’s book was published by the University of Chicago Press.) I recommend either or — if you really want to be an expert on all facets of New York v. Lochner and the courts’ inconsistent protection of economic liberty — both.

Here’s an excerpt from my Liberty of Contract review:

The U.S. Supreme Court has no coherent ideas about—or real respect for—individual rights. It generally allows governments to do whatever they want, with limited exceptions for a handful of rights it has deemed “fundamental,” such as the right to free speech (in some areas) and the right to sexual privacy (in some respects). Other rights, such as the right to economic liberty, receive almost no protection at all.

Why so much protection for some rights and so little for others? Because the Court has arbitrarily said so.

Libertarians, of course, think differently about rights. Libertarians think that our rights exist independently of government, and that if government has any legitimate purpose at all, it is to protect those preexisting rights.

Libertarians also think that all our rights are really property rights. We each own ourselves, and from that follows a right to own private property that we acquire through voluntary exchanges with others. Other rights, such as the right to free speech, derive from our right to use our own property as we see fit. And the right to economic liberty—that is, to trade your property and your labor freely with others—is just as “fundamental” as any other right.

In Liberty of Contract: Rediscovering a Lost Constitutional Right, law professor and historian David N. Mayer shows how Americans went from embracing the libertarian conception of rights reflected (imperfectly) in the Declaration of Independence to the statist conception of rights reflected in modern Supreme Court decisions.

Read the rest.

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Book Review: Rehabilitating Lochner http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/12/19/book-review-rehabilitating-lochner/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/12/19/book-review-rehabilitating-lochner/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2011 00:01:43 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=10136 In the Winter 2012 Independent Review, I review David Bernstein’s Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform. Here’s how it starts:

Few Supreme Court cases receive more scorn in U.S. law schools than Lochner v. New York (198 U.S. 45), the 1905 decision that struck down a New York law limiting the number of hours that bakers could work as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. It’s safe to say that most legal academics and judges today believe that the Lochner Court engaged in extraordinarily outrageous “judicial activism” motivated by a devotion to extreme libertarian ideology, big business, or both.

In Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform, George Mason University law professor David Bernstein makes the case that the conventional view is wrong. He provides persuasive evidence that Lochner does not deserve to be singled out as an especially activist or offensive case and that Lochner‘s Progressive critics were the real activists with a much more disturbing agenda.

Read the rest.

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Top 10 Libertarian Books for Christmas 2011 http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/12/07/top-10-libertarian-books-for-christmas-2011/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/12/07/top-10-libertarian-books-for-christmas-2011/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2011 23:09:14 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/12/07/top-10-libertarian-books-for-christmas-2011/ Every year, I like to construct a list of some of the best books released in the past year and a few a others that are worth recommending at any time. Of course, this is my opinion, but if you’re looking for a gift for your libertarian loved one this Christmas season then perhaps you’ll give one of these books a go. So without further adieu, the Top 10 Libertarian Books for Christmas 2011!

It Is Dangerous to Be Right When Governments Is Wrong by Judge Andrew Napolitano1. It is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government is Wrong by Andrew Napolitano – The Judge, host of FreedomWatch on Fox Business, has put together an amazing book that analyzes a host of topics from the standpoint of natural law. I will be reviewing this book on my personal website soon but I’m going to say it now – you need to read this book. The data and stories he presents in the book make it easily worth every penny, and it deserves a prominent place on your (or anyone else’s) bookshelf.

2. Libertarianism Today by Jacob Huebert – This book was on the list last year, but it warrants another mention because you can get it at a significantly reduced price by purchasing directly from the publisher. Huebert’s book is definitely a must-read, and is one of the best recent books on hardcore libertarianism in the past few years. LRC writer Laurence Vance has called it, “The best introduction to libertarianism on the market.”

3. Bourbon for Breakfast and It’s a Jetsons World by Jeffrey Tucker – Check out this review of Bourbon for Breakfast, and you’ll see that it is a super read for anyone looking to circumvent statist restrictions upon their lives. Tucker’s followup work tells exciting stories of the little everyday miracles of the free market at work.

Liberty Defined by Ron Paul4. Liberty Defined by Ron Paul – Another gold standard in libertarian literature by one of liberty’s greatest defenders. See this review for the full story.

5. Rollback by Thomas Woods – I am a huge fan of Tom Woods and have known him for over 5 years now. His latest book makes an eloquent case for dismantling pretty much everything the government currently does today.

Great Wars and Great Leaders by Ralph Raico6. Great Wars and Great Leaders by Ralph Raico – Leaders who take a country to war are often heralded as “great,” but the libertarian perspective considers such notions to be folly. War is the health of the state and the enemy of liberty, and Raico’s historical work is great ammunition in the war of ideas that we fight daily.

7. Myth of a Guilty Nation by Albert Jay Nock – This is an old book newly reprinted by the Mises Institute, and I’m excited to see it available again (because I’m a big fan of Nock and haven’t ever read this one). From the Mises.org description: “Nock’s book reminds us of what most everyone has forgotten, namely, that this was sold as a war for freedom and self-determination over imperial ambition. Along with that came some of the most rabid war propaganda ever fabricated until that point in time, all designed to make Germany into a devil nation. Nock’s brave book took on that idea and demonstrated that there was fault enough to go around on all sides. All through the 1920s, a Nockian-style retelling of the facts behind the war led to a dramatic shift in public opinion against World War I.” Awesome!

8. The Bastiat Collection Pocket Edition by Frederic Bastiat – If you haven’t read Bastiat’s The Law, you need to get on that immediately! This book contains all the major works of Bastiat in a very small volume, and makes a great gift.

9. Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt – Need to learn a little more about economics? Start with the classic by Hazlitt, and never forget the first lesson again…

Last but not least, a special note for the Christian readers…

10. Christian Theology of Public Policy and Bible and Government by John Cobin – I absolutely love the excellent work of John Cobin. For Christian libertarians, these are must reads!

Have a happy holiday season!

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Thoughts on Tabarrok’s Launching the Innovation Revolution http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/12/06/thoughts-on-tabarroks-launching-the-innovation-revolution/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/12/06/thoughts-on-tabarroks-launching-the-innovation-revolution/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2011 05:29:56 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=9957 After reviews by Bryan Caplan and our own Stephan Kinsella got my attention, I read Alexander Tabarrok’s new “TED” e-book, Launching the Innovation Revolution.

I went in with an open mind, ready to applaud practical suggestions for incrementally increasing freedom in the area of intellectual property, even if Tabarrok didn’t endorse abolishing the entire patent system as I do. But I was still disappointed.

To Tabarrok’s credit, he does start by showing why patents aren’t necessary to have innovation (at least, he says, in most fields), and he does argue for shorter patent terms (for some things) and less patent protection (for some things). That’s all fine, as far as it goes.

Unfortunately, too much of the book is devoted to promoting new central-planning schemes that Tabarrok thinks would work better than current government programs. Kinsella discusses some of them in an update to his original review; I’ll discuss a couple more.

Perhaps my least favorite was a suggestion that the federal government subsidize higher education only in areas where there will supposedly be “spillovers” of benefits to the economy as a whole, such as engineering and biochemistry. Education in less economically valuable fields, such as sociology, would not be subsidized. The problem is, Tabarrok doesn’t mention what I’m sure he knows: we’ll get all the innovative engineers and scientists we need if we stop subsidizing higher education entirely and let the market decide what areas of study are valuable. On the other hand, if government planners enter the business of deciding which subjects are economically important, as Tabarrok wishes, what reason is there to think that they’ll choose the “right” subjects and that the subjects won’t be determined (and altered over time) according to political considerations? Apparently Tabarrok thinks you just need to have the right planners in charge — but anyone familiar with libertarian thought or public choice, as Tabarrok is, should know that any scheme that depends on the wisdom or benevolence of government planners is bound to fail.

Elsewhere, Tabarrok endorses the idea of governments buying mass quantities of vaccines from pharmaceutical companies, and he says it’s “shameful” that the U.S. has not done this in some instances where other countries’ governments have done so. Here again, it’s just assumed that the government will choose well — and that the program won’t turn into a corporate welfare scam that ultimately will have little to do with what’s actually good for Americans’ health. And this is to say nothing of the impropriety of forcing people to pay for things they wouldn’t voluntarily pay for.

Tabarrok says that many federal regulations are “good,” it’s just that taken together, they make the cost of doing business too high and stifle innovation. Which he considers to be good and why is never clear.

At least Tabarrok does get in a dig at the warfare state — not because it slaughters thousands of innocent people but because it diverts resources away from domestic innovation. (He’s not against all military spending, though. For example, he laments that we give “only” $3 billion a year to DARPA for R&D — never mind that the money it gets now is spent on some very disturbing projects.)

Maybe this book will help some people recognize that patents aren’t as essential to innovation as some claim, or get some people to favor increased immigration (another area in which it is good). I’m concerned, however, that it’s the statist ideas, if any, that we’ll see implemented.

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Gabb on Milne’s Time to Say No: Alternatives to EU Membership http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/11/22/gabb-on-milnes-time-to-say-no-alternatives-to-eu-membership/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/11/22/gabb-on-milnes-time-to-say-no-alternatives-to-eu-membership/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2011 19:51:35 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=9649 English libertarian Sean Gabb, Director of the Libertarian Alliance, has just published an excellent book review of Ian Milne’s Time to Say No: Alternatives to EU Membership. It’s appended below.

This little review is chock full of great insights. He explains that the EU, while it does not really infringe UK sovereignty–”this country is governed from London, and by our own ruling class–has “help[ed] make the exercise of power by this ruling class less accountable.” He gives the example of metrification foisted on the country in 1995. Gabb points out that the British Government ignores other EU directives when it wants to (Gabb gives examples). But when it enacts a law based on an EU directive, it provides cover for the politicians who can just point to the EU and blame it on them. This allows special interest groups like the big four supermarkets to lobby the state to pass laws that harm smaller competitors, and the politicians to be absolved of blame by pointing to the EU Directive they “have” to enact (even though the ignore others). The larger grocery stores can afford the expense of retraining but hobble smaller grocery stores.

This is yet another example of how big businesses are actually in support of supposedly “anti-business” regulations since it helps to protect them from competition. Rothbard has pointed this out many times as I note in this post.1

By the way, I recommend Gabb’s novel The Churchill Memorandum and also his excellent Literary Essays, both linked at his site. About the latter book I wrote the following for a back cover blurb: “Libertarians have sound ideas but are not always great writers, and are not usually authorities on literature and literary matters. Rarer still is the literary essayist who is not confused or ignorant about politics and economics. It is thus refreshing to encounter Sean Gabb’s literary writing. A long-time libertarian activist and writer who is also a superb novelist and literary essayist, an honest and clear writer, he is our modern libertarian man of letters. This splendid and sparkling collection of essays provides fascinating insights into literature and other literary topics, without the typical leftist baggage and economic illiteracy.”)

Review by Sean Gabb
Time to Say No:
Alternatives to EU Membership

by Ian Milne
Civitas, London, 78pp, £8.00
ISBN: 978-1906837327

In its supporting evidence, this is a very useful book. In its overall purpose, it is quite useless. Its former is the claim that British membership of the European Union does not pass any kind of cost-benefit analysis. Our trade outside the EU has been growing much faster than our trade within. This will continue for at least the next generation, as the main EU countries are demographically in decline and, on the whole, stagnant economically. Indeed, taking into account direct and indirect costs of membership, the gains from being part of the Single Market could be negative. In purely economic terms, Britain is better off out.

The book is worth reading for its short but authoritative stating of these arguments. But I will now explain why it is generally useless. Mr Milne imagines a referendum, in June 2014, on British membership of the EU. He imagines this will go in favour of withdrawal, and that the governing and opposition parties work harmoniously together, and with the EU institutions, for a phased two year withdrawal as required by the Treaty of Lisbon. After this, the country can be free again to govern itself.

The problem with this scenario is that its main assumption is absurd. This country is not ultimately governed from Brussels. We are not victims of foreign control. It is a false belief that our own liberal and therefore benign institutions have been checked by the European Commission, and that leaving the EU will have much the same effect as removing a stone from a horse’s hoof. The truth is that, just as before 1973, this country is governed from London, and by our own ruling class. All that EU membership has achieved is to help make the exercise of power by this ruling class less accountable.

Since the final disappearance, around 1980, of decency and regard for the public good in our politics, every tax and regulation and change in the law had been made for the benefit of some wealthy interest group. The political wing of our ruling class has been acting on behalf of its economic wing. If there have sometimes been disputes between and within these wings, we should not deceive ourselves on the essential unity of state and big business. Now, this is an actual constitution that is best hidden from democratic scrutiny. And so we have had a growth of supranational organisations to hide the reality of how power is exercised. Though by far the most prominent in this country, the European Union is just one among many of these institutions.

Let me explain this abstract point with an actual example. I do not think anyone of importance in Brussels has ever cared what system of measurements we use in this country. Yet, starting in 1995, we suffered a rapid and brutal metrication. By 2000, it could be a criminal offence to sell a pound of bananas. Anyone who complained about this was referred to an EU Directive from 1989 that allegedly tied the hands of British politicians. What seems really to have happened, though, is that the big four supermarkets had found a way to hobble their smaller competitors. Metrication required new measuring instruments. More importantly, it needed an expensive retraining of staff to work at commercial speed in so far unfamiliar measurements. The big supermarkets could spend millions on this without noticing. It was a different impact on small grocers.

If it had needed a Weights and Measures Bill to go through Parliament in the old way, there would have been an outcry, and someone important might have found it worth discussing who was pushing for this. Instead, the law was changed without meaningful reference to Parliament, and everyone who disagreed could rail against the European Union in general, while the actual projectors and beneficiaries of the change could walk away smiling.

And that is how we are governed – in little things and in great. The British Government is practically at liberty to enforce or not enforce any EU law it chooses. It does not comply with a Directive from the 1970s that seems to require identity cards. It does not comply with another Directive that, by implication, seems to forbid it from prohibiting civilian ownership of handguns. If our Government does choose to follow EU law, it is either because that particular law benefits – or has even been procured by – some privileged interest in this country, or because the only interests actually damaged are outside the ruling class.

This is why, regardless of which party is in office, and regardless of what the party leaders may have said in opposition, every British Government since 1973 has been committed to EU membership. And this is why the withdrawal scenario given by Mr Milne is impossible. No referendum will be allowed. If one must be allowed, the question will be slanted – for example, giving a “compromise” option of renegotiation to divide the anti-EU vote – and the mainstream media and whole of big business will argue for staying in. If there is a vote for withdrawal, the referendum will simply be rerun six months later.

The problem with most Eurosceptics is still their assumption that leaving the EU will allow us to solve all our problems. The truth is that the EU is not the cause of our problems: it is merely another symptom of how we have failed as a nation. If we are not to fade away as a distinct nation before the middle of this century, we need a revolution. Undoubtedly, one of the first acts of a revolutionary government must be immediate withdrawal from the EU – just as it must be withdrawal from every other supranational institution. But regarding withdrawal as of supreme importance in itself is the political equivalent of trying to cure chicken pox by popping all the blisters.

Yes, Mr Milne has probably got his sums right. If he really believes our masters will allow us a genuine voice about EU membership, or will listen to that voice, he needs to think again.

And one final point. I do sound in this review as if I am simply copying Richard North. I do greatly admire Dr North. He has said much more than I have about the European Union, and knows things in detail that I at best only dimly perceive. There can be no shame in putting in my own words what he has persuaded me to believe. But I have reached these opinions independently of him. For example, here they are, given ten years ago in much their present form. This is a moderately important point to make. When one reasonably intelligent person is persuaded by another, it adds some weight to a conclusion. When that conclusion is reached independently, the weight is increased. By all means, we could both be wrong. But this final point is worth making.


  1. See note 10 and accompanying text of my article Reducing the Cost of IP Law (“Once again, as in the case of minimum-wage, social-security, and prounion laws, federal legislation works in favor of big business, … For a recent example, UPS is currently lobbying Congress to enact legislation that would redefine its rival, FedEx, as a trucking company rather than the airline it started out as in an attempt to make it easier for the Teamsters union to unionize FedEx drivers and raise their wage rates—and of course FedEx’s cost structure. See Del Quentin Wilber & Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Taking the Hill By Air and Ground: Shift in Congress Favors Labor, UPS Over FedEx, Washington Post(September 14, 2007).

    See also Murray N. Rothbard, Origins of the Welfare State in America, Mises.org (1996) (“Big businesses, who were already voluntarily providing costly old-age pensions to their employees, could use the federal government to force their small-business competitors into paying for similar, costly, programs…. [T]he legislation deliberately penalizes the lower cost, ‘unprogressive,’ employer, and cripples him by artificially raising his costs compared to the larger employer.… It is no wonder, then, that the bigger businesses almost all backed the Social Security scheme to the hilt, while it was attacked by such associations of small business as the National Metal Trades Association, the Illinois Manufacturing Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers. By 1939, only 17 percent of American businesses favored repeal of the Social Security Act, while not one big business firm supported repeal.… Big business, indeed, collaborated enthusiastically with social security.”); Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., “The Economics Of Discrimination,” in Speaking of Liberty (2003), at 99 (“One way the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] is enforced is through the use of government and private ‘testers.’ These actors, who will want to find all the “discrimination” they can, terrify small businesses. The smaller the business, the more ADA hurts. That’s partly why big business supported it. How nice to have the government clobber your up-and-coming competition.”); Rothbard, For A New Liberty (2002), pp. 316 et seq.; Rothbard, The Betrayal of the American Right, 185-86 (2007) (“This is the general view on the Right; in the remarkable phrase of Ayn Rand, Big Business is ‘America’s most persecuted minority.’ Persecuted minority, indeed! To be sure, there were charges aplenty against Big Business and its intimate connections with Big Government in the old McCormick Chicago Tribune and especially in the writings of Albert Jay Nock; but it took the Williams-Kolko analysis, and particularly the detailed investigation by Kolko, to portray the true anatomy and physiology of the America scene. As Kolko pointed out, all the various measures of federal regulation and welfare statism, beginning in the Progressive period, that Left and Right alike have always believed to be a mass movement against Big Business, are not only backed to the hilt by Big Business at the present time, but were originated by it for the very purpose of shifting from a free market to a cartelized economy. Under the guise of regulations “against monopoly” and “for the public welfare,” Big Business has succeeded in granting itself cartels and privileges through the use of government.”); Albert Jay Nock, quoted in Rothbard, The Betrayal of the American Right, 22 (2007) (“The simple truth is that our businessmen do not want a government that will let business alone. They want a government they can use. Offer them one made on Spencer’s model, and they would see the country blow up before they would accept it.”).

    See also Timothy P. Carney, The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money (2006), and also Rothbard, Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal (“This is the general view on the right; in the remarkable phrase of Ayn Rand, Big Business is “America’s most persecuted minority.” Persecuted minority, indeed! Sure, there were thrusts against Big Business in the old McCormick Chicago Tribune and in the writings of Albert Jay Nock; but it took the Williams-Kolko analysis to portray the true anatomy and physiology of the American scene. … As Kolko pointed out, all the various measures of federal regulation and welfare statism that left and right alike have always believed to be mass movements against Big Business are not only now backed to the hilt by Big Business, but were originated by it for the very purpose of shifting from a free market to a cartelized economy that would benefit it. Imperialistic foreign policy and the permanent garrison state originated in the Big Business drive for foreign investments and for war contracts at home.”)

    See also the Wikipedia article on Rothbard: “Rothbard was equally condemning of relationships he perceived between big business and big government. He cited many instances where business elites co-opted government’s monopoly power so as to influence laws and regulatory policy in a manner benefiting them at the expense of their competitive rivals. He wrote in criticism of Ayn Rand’s “misty devotion to the Big Businessman” that she: “is too committed emotionally to worship of the Big Businessman-as-Hero to concede that it is precisely Big Business that is largely responsible for the twentieth-century march into aggressive statism…”[49] According to Rothbard, one example of such cronyism included grants of monopolistic privilege the railroads derived from sponsoring so-called conservation laws.[50]

    Patents are state-granted monopolies, which are in “tension” with antitrust law; you can have and use this monopoly, even though it technically seems to violate the antitrust laws, so long as you don’t abuse it. This means that the larger companies who amass the large patent arsenals (and cross-license with each other) sort of have immunity from antitrust law while smaller competitors are not only subject to the anticompetitive effect of the patent monopolies possessed by the big players but also subject to antitrust law still. Absent antitrust law perhaps smaller companies could cartelize somehow to combat the patent monopolies of the big companies–for example perhaps they could form defensive patent pooling arrangements–pools that might under current law violate antitrust (I am not sure, have not looked into it in detail). I.e., the antitrust law (maybe) gives enough of an exemption to big companies to acquire large patent monopoly arsenals and to cross-license with each other forming anticompetitive barriers to entry but does not give enough of an exemption for smaller companies to collude and cartelize and form defensive patent pools. I sense that this is basically one thing that is going on.

    Another example would perhaps be Big Sports. If I recall correctly federal antitrust law had to grant a special exemption to certain college or large sports leagues, so that they would not be hampered by antitrust law. I can imagine that the combined effect of antitrust law and the special exemption might give some favoritism to the NFL etc. This may be on point but not sure it’s the only one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_Broadcasting_Act_of_1961

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Hunter S. Thompson’s Last Stand http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/11/20/hunter-s-thompsons-last-stand/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/11/20/hunter-s-thompsons-last-stand/#comments Sun, 21 Nov 2010 05:27:03 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=7175 Dear Dr. Thompson: Felony Murder, Hunter S. Thompson, and the Last Gonzo Campaign
Ghost Road Press, 2010

by Matthew L. Moseley

Reviewed by Ryan McMaken

Hunter S. Thompson was one of the 20th century’s greatest literary social critics, and one of the most anti-authoritarian. In the tradition of Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken, Thompson never flinched at exposing the hypocrisies and contradictions of American life and ideology, and his contempt for authority permeated not just his writing but his life as well.

Thompson killed himself in 2005, shortly before his remains were shot out of a giant cannon in Aspen, Colorado. Yet, right up to the end, Thompson made himself a gadfly and a nuisance and an enemy of the agents of the state who have so much power over the lives of the powerless.

In Dear Dr. Thompson, writer Matthew Moseley has provided an entertaining first person account of Hunter S. Thompson and his “Last Gonzo Campaign.” Through the book, which is both a true crime account and a study of Thompson the man, Moseley details Thompson’s involvement in the Lisl Auman case in which, Auman, then barely out of her teens, was kidnapped by a drug addled gangbanger who murdered a police officer. Later, prosecutors claimed Auman had assisted the murderer and, thanks to media hysteria and prosecutorial recklessness in the name of “sending a message” to cop killers, Auman was sentenced to life in prison without parole under the felony murder law in Colorado.

Then one day, while serving her life sentence in a Colorado prison, Auman wrote a letter to Hunter S. Thompson a few hours away in Aspen. Thompson’s assistant Deborah Fuller read the letter aloud to Thompson. The letter spawned the “Free Lisl!” campaign which would turn out to be Thompson’s last great campaign against injustice.

The Murder

Lisl Auman was handcuffed in the back of a police car in the parking lot of an apartment complex when skinhead Matthaeus Jaenig, whom Auman had met that morning, murdered a police officer.

Denver’s Westword newspaper provides a concise description of the scene:

Freeze this image in your mind.

It’s the afternoon of November 12, 1997. Lisl Auman, 21 years old, is standing in front of a boxy condominium…Behind her is the hulking form of Matthaeus Jaehnig, struggling frantically with the lock on the condominium door. In front of Lisl are first two, then three police officers. She has her hands up. She is taking one, two hesitant steps forward.

In seconds she will be on the ground, hands behind her for the handcuffs, an officer’s knee in her back, his voice in her ear, yelling, calling her a bitch. She will be bundled into a police car and driven a short way off in the condo parking lot.

Jaehnig, meanwhile, will have veered from the door, around a set of stairs–coming within a few feet of the officers–and into an alcove…There is no exit from it other than the stairs he has just passed or the locked doorway to a second condo.

Officer Bruce VanderJagt arrives…VanderJagt is a courageous and much-admired eleven-year veteran of the Denver Police Department. He has twice received a Distinguished Service Cross–once for disarming a gunman terrorizing the employees of Porter Memorial Hospital, once for running into a burning building to help save the occupants…VanderJagt peers around the corner. There’s a fusillade of shots. More quickly than the mind can grasp, a bullet rips away the right side of VanderJagt’s head. For long seconds he remains standing. Then he falls.

Minutes later, Jaehnig takes VanderJagt’s service revolver and kills himself.

Auman is taken to the police station for questioning.  Police assumed that Auman had been an accomplice of Jaehnig’s and that she and Jaehnig were allies and perhaps friends. The truth was more complicated.

Auman and Jaehnig had only met earlier that day. Jaenig was the friend of a friend whom Auman had asked for help in retrieving some of her belongings from the apartment of a former boyfriend who had been abusive and had been keeping many of Auman’s belongings in his apartment at the Hudson Hotel in Buffalo Creek in the mountains above Denver.

Auman’s friend invited along Jaehnig, a skinhead with a long history of violence in Denver.  But Lisl Auman didn’t know anything about Jaehnig’s past. By the time the group reached Buffalo Creek, it was apparent that Jaehnig was someone to be feared, and when Jaehnig started burglarizing Shawn Cheever’s apartment, Auman couldn’t do much about it.

Many hours later, as Jaehnig was leading the police on a high speed chase through the city streets of Denver, Auman had become a hostage to the heavily armed and obviously violent Jaehnig who forced Auman to hold the steering wheel while he leaned out the window and fired wildly at the police in pursuit.

The chase eventually ended at the apartment complex in Denver where Auman fled from Jaehnig and where Jaehnig murdered Bruce VanderJagt.

Was Auman a hostage or was she an accessory to murder? And if she was an accessory, could she be charged with first degree murder for a crime that took place while she was locked in the back of a police car?

Under the felony murder law, the answer to the latter question is yes.

Felony Murder

Moseley describes the concept of felony murder:

Felony murder is a favored statute of prosecutors because it allows them to cast the widest possible net around a crime to include people who may have had no intent for the crime to happen. Colorado law states ‘ the purpose of the felony murder statute is to hold a participating robber accountable for a non-participant’s death, even though unintended, as long as death is caused by an act committed in the course of or in furtherance of the robbery or in the course of immediate flight therefrom. [Emphasis Moseley’s] Prosecutor’s have used it to ensnare forty-five people under the age of eighteen in Colorado, and over 2,000 juveniles in the U.S., who are all serving sentences of life without parole.

The problem in the Auman case is that it was not clear at all that Vanderjagt’s murder in Denver had anything at all to do with the theft that occurred in the mountains many, many hours before. Nor was it clear that Lisl Auman was in the course of immediate flight from the burglary. Indeed, it was most likely that Auman ran to police protection in flight from Jaehnig himself, who had obviously been endangering the life of Auman for hours before the final shoot-out.

However, as one of the attorneys who sympathized with Auman noted, the way the law was being interpreted by the courts meant that “she could have jumped out of the car [as Jaenig sped down the highway] and she still would be guilty.”

A prosecuting attorney later pointed out that the fact that Auman had been in police custody did not matter: “It does not matter where she was. She could have been at McMurdo Sound in Antactica. She could have been on Mir Space Station.” She was still guilty because, as the prosecutors claimed, both Auman and Jaenig were in the course of immediate flight from the burglary of Shawn Cheever at the Hudson Hotel in Buffalo Creek, Colorado.

Another benefit of the felony murder law is that prosecutors don’t even need to show that the defendant intended to kill anyone. According to Jeffrey Hartje, a criminal law professor at the University of Denver, “Conspiracy and felony murder are the favored children in the prosecutor’s nursery…With felony murder and conspiracy, you don’t have to show intention, making a conviction much easier.”

Freed of having to show that Auman intended to kill anyone, the prosecutors simply sought to show that she was somehow in league with Jaenig. In order to convince a jury of the justice of locking Auman away forever, in spite of the fact that she seemingly was no accomplice at all, prosecutors contended that Auman had handed Jaehnig the gun he had fired at police. The police had absolutely no physical evidence of this, but a police officer later changed his original statement to claim that he had indeed seen Auman hand Jaehnig a gun.

The police and prosecution painted a picture of Auman as a surly skinhead and as a misfit and as a angry young women who raged against authority. The local media dutifully repeated and reprinted the prosecution’s theories. The police, the public and the media had apparently decided that someone had to pay for VanderJagt’s death, and since Jaehnig was dead, Auman was going to have to do.

After an endless number of press conferences organized by prosecutors, numerous condemnations of Auman in the press, and a short trial, the jury voted to convict in spite of the fact that no fingerprints or evidence of gunpowder residue could be produced to connect Auman to any weapons, and the fact that no intent was ever proven.

Auman was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Auman writes to Thompson

While serving her life sentence, Auman wrote a letter to Thompson, noting that Thompson’s books had been banned from the prison library. (The prison system says this is not the case.) After being read the letter, which briefly outlined Auman’s plight, Thompson declared to his staff “What the f*** are you so cheerful about? If I were you I’d slit my wrists.” According to Moseley, from this point on, Lisl’s case slowly “sparked an inner rage” in Thompson.

In January 2001, Thompson used his Hey Rube column at ESPN.com, which the editors thought was supposed to be about sports,  to write a column denouncing the treatment of Auman, thus beginning Thompson’s public campaign to free Lisl Auman.

At his high-powered Super Bowl party that year, Thompson called together all the powerful and influential friends he could muster, including various well-connected attorneys and politicos, “and the National Committee to Free Lisl Auman was born that night.”

Thompson wouldn’t accept that someone could be locked in prison for life for a crime that occurred when the “guilty” party was locked in the back of a police car. He also refused to believe that there was anything unique about Auman’s story, or that she was justly paying the price for her carelessness, or that she was “asking for it.” For Thompson, Auman was exactly  like a million other non-criminal young women, except that they had been lucky enough to not find themselves on the wrong end of a police smear campaign.  For Thompson, America is a place where people end up on the wrong side of the law without much effort.

As Thompson would later write in an appeal for help from friends and colleagues:

There is no such thing as Paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment… What happened to Lisl Auman can happen to Anybody in America, and when it does, you will sure as hell need friends….Take my word for it, folks. I have been There, and it ain’t Fun.

Thompson Joins the Fight

There’s no room to delve into the legal details of Lisl Auman’s appeal here, but what is important is that, by shining light on the Auman case, Thompson shone a light on prosecutorial misconduct, police corruption, and the injustice of the felony murder statutes.

This suited Thompson perfectly well. Dear Dr. Thompson provides a variety of amusing and interesting insights into Thompson’s views of police power and the corrupting nature of government power. Thompson’s gift for thoroughly accurate hyperbole would rub many the wrong way, but his disdain for official abuse of power seemed to know no bounds, and this came through in his comments and behavior throughout the campaign to free Auman.

Thompson was well aware of the political nature of the district attorney’s office, and he doubted the scruples of then district attorney Bill Ritter who would later use his position as a launching pad to become governor of Colorado.

According to Moseley, “Thompson thought Ritter wouldn’t support Lisl because of pressure from the police union, which he called a mafia. ‘The police union needs a cooperative DA and the DA needs a cooperative police union…[But you shouldn’t be] allowed to abuse just because you have a gun and a badge. It is savage behavior. It’s uncivilized. It goes back to the law of the tooth and the fang…’”

For Thompson, the prosecutors served the police and the police served the prosecutors. The public, on the other hand, was on its own. This cozy arrangement was all the more troubling to Thompson because he saw that so little was being done about it.

When queried on the matter, Thompson would become rather animated.

“They (the police) just think they can get away with it. They tell each other that. ‘We the brave, the true, the just.’ S**t on them.” he said getting peeved and pounded on the kitchen cabinet. “See I get a little excited when I think about taking on the cops again. Somebody says ‘Aren’t you worried about this [his involvement in the Lisl Auman case] Aren’t you concerned to fight the police? After all they are very powerful.’ Well, they are as powerful as you let them be.”

By the time he got to commenting on the chief of police at the time, Thompson certainly wasn’t holding back:

Richard Nixon was so crooked he had to have his servants screw his pants on every morning, and so is Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman. He and his force have committed more crimes against humanity than Lisl Auman ever dreamed of.

The sheer ferocity of Thompson’s outrage in the matter was what made Thompson such an effective force behind the Free Lisl! Campaign. Thompson vowed to overturn the felony murder law and free Lisl Auman. He railed against the injustice of her imprisonment to influential friends, lawyers, celebrities and reporters. Lisl Auman, who had been locked away years earlier and forgotten, was suddenly someone Thompson would not let be forgotten. He worked behind the scenes, “work[ing] the phones every night,” to make sure that Auman’s appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court was the best that could be mustered. Moseley himself, a seasoned public relations man, was enlisted by Thompson to make sure that the press, which had so obediently followed the prosecution’s line in the court of public opinion during her trial, might this time give Auman a fair chance. Thompson used his celebrity status and threatened to crusade against and to even run for office against local politicians who maintained that Auman should remain in prison. This wasn’t an idle threat. Thompson had caused political havoc in Colorado before, and everyone knew it. In a close race, an enraged Hunter S. Thompson could spell defeat for those he might target.

Thompson wasn’t simply thrashing about looking for attention. Although Auman’s freedom essentially came down to a decision by judges, Thompson wasn’t so naive as to think that judges aren’t influenced by the public or the press.  Just as politics and a hostile media had helped lock Auman away, so, Thompson hoped,  an overwhelming campaign to turn public opinion in her favor might help save her.

Thompson knew the public must begin to see “justice” in America as he saw it, even if just for a little while. As Auman’s appeal progressed, Thompson called long time Denver Post reporter Ed Quillen and, according to Moseley, “Quillen was so taken with the conversation that he wrote a provocative column about Lisl’s case” containing the following lessons to be learned:

1. When a policeman is killed, somebody has to pay. If the killer is already dead, then some other party must be found and prosecuted, no matter how far the prosecutors have to stretch to make a case, no matter how many cops have to change their stories before the trial.

2. Do not ever talk to the police without a lawyer, no matter how innocent you think you are. Until your lawyer gets there, keep your mouth shut. That’s your right and you should exercise it.

3. If you somehow end up in the company of a homicidal maniac whom you’ve never met before that day, pray he lives through the shoot out.

Thompson’s Last Good Deed

In the end, although the Supreme Court did not overturn the felony murder law, it did conclude that the jury had received faulty instructions during her trial, and in 2005 Lisl Auman was freed from prison and remains out of prison to this day. It was a technicality. And it was one that called no larger issues of law into question, suggesting that perhaps the court was looking for a reason to set her free without upsetting the legal  apple cart too much. And ultimately, it suggests that Hunter’s scorched-earth campaign against all who maintained  the justice of Lisl’s imprisonment, just might have made the difference.

Thompson killed himself shortly before the Court handed down its decision, so he never knew how it had all turned out.  But many were uneasy with the fact that it had taken so much to get justice for Lisl Auman.

“Do you think anyone gave a rat’s ass about Lisl until Hunter came along?” asked Mary Ellen Johnson of the Pendulum Foundation, who tracks felony murder cases. “No. They didn’t and it shouldn’t be that way. I wish no child had to have a guardian angel like Hunter Thompson and that it is was based on justice, but it was not. Lisl’s story is not even that unusual. The only thing unusual about it is Hunter. Otherwise nobody would care.”

And people did care because of Thompson. Not only did he help to free Lisl Auman, but he inspired those around him to understand that justice is not free in America, and it’s not blind, and it can be turned against you to serve the political ambitions and the thirst for vengeance in others.

Lisl’s case is not unique, but at least she was actually tangentally involved in the murder committed by Matthaeus Jaenig that day. Others, like Tim Masters or Randall Dale Adams, to just name two, were not guilty of anything criminal in any way, and were locked away for years to suit the prejudices of prosecutors and police.

Dear Dr. Thompson is an important contribution to the literature on miscarriages of justice, but it is also an important account of the final days of Hunter S Thompson, who, in addition to writing some of the best journalistic prose of the last fifty years, never backed down from a chance to take on the same forces whom he wrote so forcefully against for so  long.

And finally, Moseley himself deserves credit for working to bring the details of this case to light. The same institution that wanted to lock up Lisl Auman for life is none too enthusiastic about advertising the fact.

According to Moseley,the district attorney’s office took over a year to respond to his request to review the case files, and when they finally did respond, they demanded hundreds of dollars in “retrieval” and “redaction” fees.

These are just some of the many barriers that the state throws up against anyone it doesn’t want snooping around, and the state holds almost all the cards. Moseley wasn’t discouraged, however, and in the end he produced a work of journalism which is no doubt an embarrassment to some powerful people, but is nevertheless an important account of how the legal system works in America.

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