The Libertarian Standard » Statism http://libertarianstandard.com Property - Prosperity - Peace Mon, 18 Aug 2014 19:04:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 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 » Statism http://libertarianstandard.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://libertarianstandard.com/category/statism/ TV-G Of Morality and Failed Business Strategies… http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/08/15/of-morality-and-failed-business-strategies/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/08/15/of-morality-and-failed-business-strategies/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 21:13:35 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13528 Some time ago, back in 2013 in fact, Richard Branson published a piece on LinkedIn, under the heading of “Big Idea 2013: This Year the Drug War Ends” wherein he positied, among other things, that if the War on (Some) Drugs was a business strategy, it would long ago have been scrapped.  He’s absolutely correct. And he’s also absolutely incorrect.

The War on (Some) Drugs is not a failed business strategy, and it is dangerous to even suggest that it is. Instead, it is a failed moral strategy. If it seems counter-intuitive to you that the government should be in the business of applying moral strategies, you win a prize. The control of what enters one’s body is, at root, the very basis of self-ownership. (Admittedly, the phrase “self-ownership” is not quite the correct nuance. I don’t “own” me, I “am” me, but anyway…)

The apparent failure of the War on (Some) Drugs speaks just as much to its actual goals as to its legitimate chances for success. In other words, if the goal was to criminalize large portions of an entire generation, then it has been a raging success. However, if the goal was to prevent people from freely consuming that which they know is their right anyway, it had no hope of success in the first place, and that lesson was obvious from alcohol prohibition.

On the more general issue of business strategies, why is it is dangerous to draw such a parallel to the War on (Some) Drugs? Such a suggestion–that just because the War on (Some) Drugs is failing that we should stop it–is a trap. It is a great example of the argument from effect, a veritable fat, shiny, Red Herring waiting for the obvious, “well, people still murder each other…” retort. Let us be clear, murdering someone is an attack on them, which is morally prohibited, dare I say malum in se anyway. Me putting a substance that you don’t like into my body has nothing to do with you.

Drug prohibition is unarguably malum prohibitum and therefore simply the attempt–misguided and puritanical–to impose the choices of some on the behavior of all. Ergo, it was destined for failure. By the way, this in no way suggests that drugs are good, but then again, neither are Twinkies. Now, if one wants to argue about the possible negative results of drug usage–crime, sickness, whatever–those ostensibly resultant actions, at least those that actually infringe on others, are ALREADY against the law. They are, in fact, malum in se regardless.

If you’re in your own home getting baked or shooting up, and don’t bother anyone else, it should be no one else’s business. I might also argue that most, if not all, of the crime supposedly endemic to illegal drugs occurs commensurate with the distribution of said substances despite their illegality. Make it legal on one day and that crime stops the next day. And, if the lessons of places like Portugal are any indication, with very little, if any, increase in widespread drug usage.
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Religious Conduct of Commerce: Unwinding the Hobby Lobby Case http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/07/02/religious-conduct-of-commerce-unwinding-the-hobby-lobby-case/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/07/02/religious-conduct-of-commerce-unwinding-the-hobby-lobby-case/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 18:58:25 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13506 There is a lot of confusion surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Hobby Lobby. The libertarian perspective has been discussed elsewhere, but what the Court actually did is not being described accurately despite the fact that they helpfully include a “syllabus” summarizing each ruling for the public. Apparently, some people, including many reporters, can’t be bothered to read even the summary. Therefore in the interest of clarity, I will try to give a brief overview of the case and of the majority’s reasoning in their decision. For the sake of brevity, citations are omitted because they can be found in the actual decision.

First some background. Contrary to what some people have claimed, objections to general laws on religious grounds do excuse you from having to follow them. This wasn’t always the case. In the early 90s, the Supreme Court ruled that “neutral, generally applicable laws may be applied to religious practices even when not supported by a compelling governmental interest” because allowing someone to object on the basis of religion to such laws “would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.” In response, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), overturning the Supreme Court’s decision and allowing challenges to neutral laws that burdened religious exercise. Under the RFRA, “[g]overnment shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The people affected by such a burden are entitled to exemption from the rule unless the government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person– (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

Many people have said that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), i.e. “Obamacare”, requires employers’ group health plans to provide coverage of contraceptives. This is not correct. The ACA merely requires the plans to cover “preventive care and screenings” for women without “any cost sharing requirements.” Congress left it up to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to decide specifically what types of care this includes. When the HRSA issued regulations specifying what was required, they mandated that all FDA approved contraceptive methods be covered. They also provided for a religious exemption for religious organizations and non-profit religious corporations. Per the requirements of the RFRA, they apparently would also provide a similar exception to unincorporated for-profit businesses operating according to the owner’s religious principles. They did not provide an exception for incorporated for-profit businesses with corporate policies stating that the businesses would be run according to religious principles. Importantly, granting this exemption does not mean that the employees of these organizations will not have contraceptive coverage. Rather, it means that the insurance companies and ultimately the government will provide this coverage at no cost to the employer or the employees.

Now for the case. Because they were denied an exemption by the HRSA, three corporations, Conestoga, Hobby Lobby, and Mardel, sued under the RFRA claiming that the regulations requiring them to provide contraceptive coverage burdened their owners’ exercise of religion and consequently entitled the corporations to an exemption. Because the RFRA is a federal statute and the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage is merely a regulation, the statute takes precedence. Therefore, if it applies to these cases, the corporations are entitled to an exemption. Because Conestoga is located in Pennsylvania, their case went to the 3rd Circuit. Hobby Lobby and Mardel however are based in Oklahoma, and consequently their case went to the 10th Circuit. These two appellate courts reached opposite conclusions. The Supreme Court then agreed to hear the case to resolve the “circuit split” and ensure a uniform interpretation of the law.

Contrary to what has been widely reported, the central issue in the case was not about corporate personhood, but about whether a corporation can be said to “exercise religion” on behalf of its owners. As we have explained multiple times on this website, a corporation is merely a legal fiction, a type of short-hand that makes explaining the law easier. As justice Alito explained in the majority opinion:

[I]t is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations’ financial well-being. And protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.

The government’s argument in the case was two-fold. First, business owners who chose to incorporate forfeited their 1st amendment protections under the RFRA and could no longer sue as individuals because incorporation made them legally separate from their businesses. Second, because the corporation itself has no religion to exercise, it cannot sue on behalf of the owners. Thus incorporation of a for-profit company implies that the free-exercise rights of the owners were forfeited. This would mean that owners would face a choice — either they could get the benefits of incorporation, or they could keep the protection granted by the RFRA. As the majority noted, adopting this rule would have widespread consequences. For example, it would mean that Orthodox Jewish store owners would be unable to sue claiming that mandatory Sunday closing laws violated their religious freedom.

Ultimately, the government was asking was for the Court to create a new legal distinction between individuals and non-profit corporations on the one hand and for-profit corporations on the other. The court considered multiple possible arguments for creating such a distinction, but found none of them persuasive in light of existing precedent. The distinction couldn’t be based on either the corporate form or the profit-making object because non-profit corporations and individuals operating as merchants are allowed to bring challenges. Nor could the issue be that for-profit corporations do not have a religious purpose because corporate law allows corporations to be formed for any lawful purpose. And for-profit corporations can and do pursue a multitude of alternative goals. In this particular case, all of the corporations involved had legally-binding policies requiring them to operate according to religious principles. Furthermore, a distinction between non-profits and for-profits would encounter practical problems. Many religious and charitable corporations are technically organized as for-profit corporations in order to be able to lobby and campaign for political candidates. And over half the states specifically allow for special dual-purpose corporations to accommodate such organizations.

Because they could not find a basis for making the distinction that the government wanted and because of the practical problems that such a distinction would create, the Court concluded that the RFRA protects the religious freedom of a corporation’s owners. Consequently, these three corporations were entitled to an exemption on the same basis that a religious non-profit would be.

It should be stressed that many of the issues that are being discussed by people commenting on this case were not decided. For example, the government did not contest the sincerity of the religious beliefs involved. But more importantly, and contrary to widespread misreporting, whether a corporation was a person for purposes of the RFRA was not at issue.

Personhood wasn’t an issue because there is a special law called the Dictionary Act that defines a host of legal terms used in other statutes. Because the RFRA protects “a person” but does not define the word “person”, the Dictionary Act’s definition of “person” is meant to apply. And under that Act, “corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies” are included in the meaning of “person”. Furthermore, the HRSA even conceded that the definition of “person” within the RFRA included non-profit corporations. And because no known legal definition of “person” includes some corporations but not others, for-profit corporations would also be protected. Therefore the case instead hinged on whether a for-profit corporation could be said to “exercise religion” on behalf of its owners. As discussed above, the idea that a corporation is a legal person is long-established fiction used to protect the rights of the people affiliated with the corporation. So, rather than being about some legally uncontroversial point, the case was about whether a person could exercise their religion via a corporation in the same way that they could exercise it via some other organization.

Hopefully this has shed some light on the case and will help foster constructive discussion about the issues involved.

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When Evil Institutions Do Good Things: The FCC’s PTAR Law http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/06/12/when-evil-institutions-do-good-things-the-fccs-ptar-law/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/06/12/when-evil-institutions-do-good-things-the-fccs-ptar-law/#comments Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:55:55 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13490 StreetTV

In my Freeman article "TV’s Third Golden Age," the summary subtitle that the magazine chose was "Programming quality is inversely proportional to regulatory meddling." I couldn’t have said it better. But does that mean that everything the FCC does makes television worse?

All laws and regulations have unforeseen consequences. That usually means unintended damage, but there’s no law of history that says every unplanned outcome is pernicious.

If you’re an advocate of a free society — one in which all arrangements are voluntary and there is the least coercive interference from governments or other thugs — history will present you with an unending series of conundrums. Whom do you side with in the Protestant Reformation, for example? The Catholic Church banned books and tortured scholars, and their official structure is one of hierarchy and authority. Easy enemy, right? Clear-cut bad guy. But the Church had kept the State in check for centuries — and vice versa, permitting seeds of freedom to root and flourish in the gaps between power centers. Whereas the Protestant states tended to be more authoritarian than the Catholic ones, with Luther and Calvin (not to mention the Anglicans) advocating orthodoxy through force. There’s a reason all those Northern princes embraced the Reformation: they wanted a cozier partnership of church and state.

This is certainly not the history I was taught in my Protestant private schools.

Similarly, most of us were schooled to side with the Union in the Civil War, to see Lincoln as a savior and the Confederacy as pure evil. But as much as the war may have resulted, however accidentally, in emancipating slaves, it also obliterated civil liberties, centralized power, strengthened central banking and fiat currencies and — to borrow from Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s great book title — enslaved free men.

"Father Abraham," as the pietists called him after his assassination, was a tyrant whose primary goal was always what he actually achieved: central power over an involuntary union. Recasting this guy as an abolitionist hero is one of the many perverse legacies of America’s official history. But it’s a mistake to simply reverse the Establishment’s verdict and claim that the Confederacy was heroic. Plenty of Johnny Rebs were fighting a righteous battle against what they rightly deemed to be foreign invaders, but even if you ignore the little problem of the South’s "peculiar institution," the Confederate government was no more liberal than its Northern rival. "While the Civil War saw the triumph in the North of Republican neo-mercantilism,” writes Hummel, “it saw the emergence in the South of full-blown State socialism.”

Reading history without taking sides may fit some scholarly ideal (actually, it seems to be a journalistic ideal created by the Progressive Movement to masquerade their views as the only unbiased ones), but it is not a realistic option. We cannot do value-free history. If we try, we instead hide or repress our biases, which makes them a greater threat to intellectual integrity.

Neither can we say, "a plague on both their houses," and retreat to the realm of pure theory, libertarian or otherwise. We have to live in the real world, and even if we are not activists or revolutionaries, the same intellectual integrity that must reject "neutrality" also requires that we occasionally explore the question of second-best or least-evil options.

I remember several years ago, when my very libertarian boss surprised me by speaking in favor of increased regulation of banking. His point was that the banks were not free-market institutions; they were government-created cartels enjoying a political privilege that protected them from the consequences of the market while they surreptitiously depleted our property and spoiled the price system that drives all progress in the material world. Ideally, he’d want the government out of banking altogether, but in the meantime having them do less damage was better than letting them do more.

It may seem anticlimactic to follow the Reformation, Civil War, and fractional-reserve banking with a little-known FCC rule about TV programming from almost half a century ago, but I’ve been reading television history for a while now (1, 2, 3, 4) as illustrative of larger patterns in political history.

The Prime Time Access Rule (PTAR) was a law instituted in 1970 to limit the amount of network programming allowed during TV’s most-watched evening hours.

According to industry analyst Les Brown, the PTAR was adopted

to break the network monopoly over prime time, to open a new market for independent producers who complained of being at the mercy of three customers, to stimulate the creation of new program forms, and to give the stations the opportunity to do their most significant local programming in the choicest viewing hours. (Les Brown’s Encyclopedia of Television)

If you still accept the official myth that the airwaves are "That most public of possessions given into the trust of the networks," as Harlan Ellison describes them in The Glass Teat, and that the federal government’s job is to manage the radio spectrum in the best interests of that public, then I’m sure you don’t see any problem with PTAR. (You can read my paper "Radio Free Rothbard" [HTML, PDF] for a debunking of this official piety.)

But a libertarian could easily jerk his or her knee in the opposite direction. How dare the central government tell private station owners what they can and can’t air on their own stations, right?

The problem with such an ahistorical take on the issue is that broadcast television was a creature of the state from the beginning. Radio may have had a nascent free-market stage in its development, but television was a state-managed cartel from the word go.

So am I saying that PTAR was a good thing? Is it like the possibly beneficial banking regulations imposed on a cartelized banking system? Should we view CBS versus FCC as the same sort of balance-of-power game that Church and State played before the early modern period of European history?

Maybe, but that’s not why I find PTAR an interesting case for the liberty-minded historian. As is so often the case with laws and regulations, PTAR’s main legacy is in its unintended consequences.

"Despite the best of intentions," writes historian Gary Edgerton in The Columbia History of American Television, "the PTAR failed in almost every respect when it was implemented in the fall of 1971."

[P]ractically no local productions or any programming innovations whatsoever were inspired by the PTAR. In addition, any increase in independently produced programming was mainly restricted to the reworking of previously canceled network series, such as Edward Gaylord’s Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk’s The Lawrence Welk Show.… Rather than locally produced programming, these kinds of first-run syndicated shows dominated the 7 to 8 P.M. time slot.

This renaissance of recently purged rural programming was certainly not the FCC’s goal, but the creation of the first-run-syndication model is one of the great unsung events in media history.

A quick note on terminology: to the extent that I knew the word "syndication" at all when I was growing up, I took it to be a fancy way of saying "reruns." For example, Paramount, the studio that bought the rights to Star Trek after the series was cancelled, sold the right to rerun the program directly to individual TV stations. When a local TV station buys a program directly from the studio instead of through the network system, that’s called syndication. But syndication isn’t limited to reruns. Studios created first-run TV programs for direct sale to local stations as far back as the 1950s, but they were the exception. The dominant syndication model was and is reruns. But two events created a surge of first-run syndication: (1) PTAR, and (2) the rural purge I obliquely alluded to above.

I write about the rural purge here, but I’ll summarize: as the 1960s turned into the 1970s, television network executives did an about-face on their entire approach to programming. In the 1960s, each network tried to win the largest possible viewership by avoiding controversy and appealing to the lowest common denominator in public tastes. This meant ignoring the rift between races, between generations, and between urban and rural sensibilities — what we now call red-state and blue-state values — in the ongoing culture wars. This approach was dubbed LOP (Least Objectionable Program) theory.

Basically, this theory posits that viewers watch TV no matter what, usually choosing the least objectionable show available to them. Furthermore, it assumes a limited number of programming choices for audiences to pick from and implies that networks, advertising agencies, and sponsors care little about quality when producing and distributing shows. (Gary Edgerton, The Columbia History of American Television)

By the end of the decade, however, NBC vice president Paul Klein (who had christened LOP theory just as its tenure was coming to an end), convinced advertisers that they should stop caring so much about total viewership and focus instead on demographics, specifically the Baby Boomers — young, politically radicalized, and increasingly urban TV viewers — who were most likely to spend the most money on the most products. CBS was winning the battle for ratings, but Klein pointed out that their audience was made up of old folks and hicks, whereas NBC was capturing the viewership of the up-and-comers.

Klein may have worked for NBC, but it was CBS who took his message to heart, quite dramatically. In 1970, the network rocked the TV world by cancelling its most reliably popular shows: Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry RFD, Hee Haw, Lassie, and The Lawrence Welk Show.

In Television’s Second Gold Age, communications professor Robert J. Thompson writes,

CBS, in an effort to appeal to a younger audience made socially conscious by the turbulent 1960s, had dumped its hit rural comedies in the first years of the 1970s while their aging audiences were still placing them in Nielsen’s top twenty-five. Critics, who for the most part had loathed the likes of Petticoat Junction and Gomer Pyle, loved some of what replaced them.

I loved what replaced them, too: Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, and the like. "Several members of Congress," Wikipedia informs us, "expressed displeasure at some of the replacement shows, many of which … were not particularly family-friendly." But that was the point: the networks were no longer aiming to please the whole family: just the most reliable consumers.

But despite capitalism’s cartoonish reputation for catering only to the bloated hump of the bell curve, that’s not how the market really works. It is how a cartel works, and the broadcast networks behaved accordingly, both before and after the rural purge. In the 1950s and ’60s, they aimed for the largest possible viewership and to hell with minorities of any sort. The demographic revolution changed the target, but not the tactic: aim for the big soft mass. That’s certainly how the big players would behave in a free market, too, but the telltale sign of freedom in the economy is that the big players aren’t the only players. Fortunes are made in niche markets, too, so long as there aren’t barriers to entering those niches. As I’ve said, TV is descended from radio, and Hoover and his corporatist cronies had arranged it so that there could only be a few big players.

That’s where we come back to the FCC’s Prime Time Access Rule of 1970. PTAR created a hole at the fringe of the prime-time schedule, just as the rural purge was creating a hole in the market. All those fans of Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk didn’t just go away, and they didn’t stop spending their money on advertised products, either. Before PTAR, the multitude of fans of "rural" programming would have had to settle for mid-afternoon reruns of their favorite shows (the way Star Trek fans haunted its late-night reruns around this same time). But the rural fans didn’t have to settle for reruns, and they didn’t have to settle for mid afternoons or late nights. They could watch new episodes of Hee Haw or Lawrence Welk at 7 PM. In fact, those two shows continued to produce new episodes and the local stations, which were no longer allowed to buy from the networks for the early evening hours, bought first-run syndicated shows instead. The Lawrence Welk Show, which had started in the early 1950s, continued for another decade, until Welk retired in the early ’80s. And the repeats continue to run on PBS today. Hee Haw, believe it or not, continued to produce original shows for syndication until 1992.

I loved Mary Tyler Moore, and I didn’t care so much for Lawrence Welk, but what I really love is peaceful diversity, which cannot exist in a winner-takes-all competition. The rise of first-run syndication was a profound crack in the winner-takes-all edifice of network programming.

The strategy CBS, NBC, and ABC had gravitated toward for short-term success — namely, targeting specific demographics with their programming — also sowed the seeds of change where the TV industry as a whole would eventually move well beyond its mass market model. Over the next decade, a whole host of technological, industrial, and programming innovations would usher in an era predicated on an entirely new niche-market philosophy that essentially turned the vast majority of broadcasters into narrowcasters. (Gary Edgerton, The Columbia History of American Television)

This idea of "narrowcasting" is the basis of quality in entertainment (and freedom in political economy, but that’s another story).

I’m not out to sing the praises of the FCC for increasing economic competition and cultural diversity — these consequences were entirely unintended — but we do have to recognize PTAR as a pebble in Goliath’s sandle, distracting him for a moment from David’s sling.

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Against the Libertarian Cold War http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/03/26/against-the-libertarian-cold-war/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/03/26/against-the-libertarian-cold-war/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 16:54:17 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13428 A controversy has arisen in the libertarian movement over the proper approach to the events concerning Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea. Like many such controversies, it has quickly polarized almost everyone, and has served as a proxy for long-standing factionalism within the movement. People quickly accuse each other of supporting Putin’s aggression or backing violent U.S. intervention. I myself have been accused of both kissing up to the Russian regime and dishing out State Department propaganda. This doesn’t itself show I have the right balance in my position, only that this feud has galvanized libertarians and hardened their rhetorical loyalties.

We might learn something from looking back at the 20th century. During the Cold War, most western critics of state power erred too far in one direction or the other. There were some whose opposition to U.S. wars led them to soften their assessment of communist aggression. Free-market and leftist lovers of peace both made this mistake. At the same time, many who favored economic and political liberty often let their anti-communism translate into support for American militarism and the security state. This confusion pervaded Americans across the spectrum.

We can all see this now: Yes, some antiwar Americans were obscenely soft on the communists. Well-meaning but foolish westerners said nice things about Lenin, Stalin, and Mao—and many of a more moderate tinge had no perspective of just how much worse international communism was than the U.S. system, at least as it concerned domestic affairs. Meanwhile, many libertarians and almost all conservatives ditched their supposed attachment to skepticism of government power and signed onto the U.S. Cold War effort. This American project included dozens of coups and interventions, the instruction of foreign secret police in unspeakable torture techniques, murderous carpet bombings that killed hundreds of thousands of peasants, and wars that indirectly brought about the Khmer Rouge and the rise of Islamist fundamentalism, both of which also became directly funded in the name of anti-communism.

It is easy to look back and see how westerners were wrong on both the Cold War and communist states—each of which killed millions of people and nearly brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust.

The stakes were so much higher then than in anything going on with Russia now. Imprecision in one’s moral assessment—either in defense of Nixon or Tito—was far more condemnable than criticizing Putin or Obama too harshly. The errors of almost all the great 20th century libertarians, free marketers, and peaceniks far exceeded any errors some might have today in their appraisal of NATO or Russia and Ukraine. And yet we forgive many people on both sides of that Cold War division. No one today actually thinks Hayek was a neocon or Rothbard a pinko.

Today’s polarization is all the more frustrating given that the bulk of American libertarians seem to agree on two major points: (1) the U.S. should not intervene in Eastern Europe and (2) Putin’s various power grabs are indefensible. Thus, most libertarians are not truly as divided as well-meaning Americans were in the Cold War.

Now, one’s emphasis is important. Not all acts of aggression are equal. But before addressing that, it’s useful to try to actually understand the splits in the movement right now.

I easily identify four factions, not two: (A) There are people who outright defend Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Crimea, and who otherwise downplay his autocratic tendencies; (B) There are those who agree that Putin is worth condemning, but who think it’s more important to emphasize the evils of U.S. interventionism; (C) There are those who agree that U.S. intervention is unwise and maybe even unethical, but who think it’s most important right now to emphasize Putin’s despotism; (D) There are those who outright favor U.S. and western intervention to stop Putin.

The polarization of discussion has led to A and B teaming up against C and D. It has also led to people in the B camp pretending like “no one” on their side is actually defending Putin, while people in the C camp are pretending “no one” on their side is actually calling for war or major U.S. interventions.

A principled opponent of state power is tempted to say that in fact B and C are on one side, despite differences in emphasis, and A and D are two extremes flirting with nationalist statism. This is my position, although I will say that I have friends—good friends—who flirt with being in camp A as well as in camp D. It happens. And to make the point again, during the Cold War, any libertarian activist would have probably had some friends who advocated nuclear strikes against the USSR, and others who supported Soviet control of the Eastern Bloc. Both of these positions would have been completely immoral and disgusting—far worse than anything said by anyone in Camp A or Camp D today. Yet today’s Cold War replay is leading people to defriend each other in the name of Manichean struggle. The tendency of people to break ties with others over this will only increase the polarization and erode mutual understanding.

On the other hand, camps A and D are at least being outright in their positions, while B and C are letting themselves get dragged into a flame war against each other when they both agree on both Putin’s and America’s actions. Both B and C are being disingenuous about some of their allies in the attempt to seem reasonable and principled and to say the other side is the only one that’s unbalanced.

In both cases, the problem appears to be nationalism—a desire to defend Putin’s actions as consistent with Russian, rather than individualist, concerns; or a desire to see American intervention as being more defensible than Russian aggression because, well, at least it’s American, and we have better, more liberal values at home. Both tendencies are in fact very illiberal, as are the attempts to collectively attack people on the “other side” of this debate when for all you know some of them agree with you on all the fundamentals more than some of the people “on your side” do.

The arguments over Russia have brought the Cold War back to the movement. They have fractured those primarily committed to anti-interventionism and those primarily concerned with liberty for all worldwide, when in fact these values are two sides of the same coin. The primary libertarian reason to oppose U.S. wars, of course, is that they kill foreigners, that they divide people into tribes based on nationality, that they are acts of nationalist aggression.

Discursively, refighting the Cold War within libertarianism will only harden people’s hearts, polarize their loyalties, and ultimately compromise their principles and clarity of thought. I plead young libertarians to refuse to be a proxy belligerent in this Cold War when for the most part it’s probably not really about Russia or Crimea at all; it’s about major factions within the movement with more fundamental disagreements using this as an opportunity to fight. If you actually seek to understand everyone’s positions, you’ll be surprised how heterogeneous attitudes are, despite the attempt to turn this current affairs disagreement into a grander sectarian dispute.

So what should we think? We should probably take a middle ground between B and C. Putin isn’t just an aggressor; he’s one of the worst on the planet. He killed tens of thousands of Chechens. He oversees one of the most vast prison populations on earth. He is essentially a late-communist holdover of the party variety in everything but name, and his violations of civil liberties, free speech, and the dignity of homosexuals and others are not minor matters for any libertarian who cares about the rights of all people on earth. His invasion of Ukraine was unjustified. His annexation of Crimea cannot be defended and although some critics have exaggerated the evils of this territorial power grabs by comparing them to Stalin’s or Hitler’s expansionism, it is true that Putin’s defenders’ arguments based on ethnic nationalism could indeed be used to justify the most infamous European land grabs that occurred that same decade.

As for the United States, its foreign policy is a lot worse than Putin’s biggest detractors wish to acknowledge. While Putin has killed more people than Obama, he does not appear to have killed more people as Bush—and yes, it is a moral failure and deviation from libertarianism to downplay the Iraq war as anything less than one of the very worst international atrocities of our new century, and one that dramatically taints the moral character of U.S. diplomacy. What the last few U.S. administrations have done will haunt much of the world for decades. And the aggression has hardly ceased. Obama’s drone killings are one of the most infamous human rights violations on the planet, the drug war imposed on Mexico has taken tens of thousands of lives, and America’s own civil liberties record is far worse than some on Team America wish to confront. There are tens of millions of people much worse off throughout the world because of recent U.S. diplomacy and wars, and only a cold utilitarian would even attempt to justify this record.

I understand why some libertarians are inclined to emphasize one point or the other. Those Americans focusing on U.S. criminality are right that we have more influence, albeit marginally so, on the government that lords over us, that if we don’t stand up to the U.S. war machine and its covert ops, no one will, and that criticism of foreign aggression often fuels war propaganda at home. But others are frustrated that just because the U.S. government condemns Russian aggression, they’re supposed to keep quiet. “My country is the world,” as Tom Paine said, and libertarians around the world should condemn aggression anywhere it happens. Pretending the U.S. government is the world’s only major problem is naïve at best. The first group is often right that liberal states are more belligerent in foreign affairs, and the second group is often right that it’s easy for people here to forget about victims of foreign oppression. Such dynamics played themselves out in the Cold War, too, and both sides had a point. It would have been demoralizing to be berated for attacking either U.S. or Soviet aggression in those times.

It is hard to maintain the right level of nuance and principle. I think John Glaser and the Jesse Walker blog entry he links to are good models of principled libertarian commentary. And I agree with plenty of points being made on multiple sides of the various controversies. Those who wish to purge either Ron Paul’s followers or the Student for Liberty internationalists over this are ignoring the points of agreement as well as the odious errors on their own side, and maybe even their own errors, and are blowing things out of proportion.

Did I myself get the balance perfectly right? Perhaps not. The right balance would have been even harder during the Cold War, and yet it would have mattered much more then. So please, everyone, take a step back. It’s fun as hell to get in faction fights. Sectarian squabbles are the force that gives us meaning. But you’ll find yourself drained and with fewer friends in the end. Don’t pretend your fellow libertarians are themselves worse than Russian nationalists or the Pentagon. It’s not true in either case. Our unifying enemy should be the same: aggression, whether it is ordered from Moscow or Washington DC.

Whenever anyone strays from this balance, it’s good to bring up what they’re missing. Then you’ll see who your true allies are, who the trolls are, and who is simply using this as a battle to refight old clashes in the movement. You’ll also find out what people’s actual position is, and that might help inform your own.

 

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The martyrdom of Aaron Swartz http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/16/the-martyrdom-of-aaron-swartz/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/16/the-martyrdom-of-aaron-swartz/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 11:00:52 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12794 A little over a year ago, a 26-year-old programmer and activist was murdered. His name was Aaron Swartz, and although he was found hanged in his Brooklyn apartment, and his death ruled a suicide, there is little question whose hands are stained with his blood. He was pursued mercilessly by a bullying prosecutor with a long track record of ruining the lives of brilliant (and perhaps naive) young men who didn’t play by the state’s rules. And he was betrayed by an educational institution that once prided itself on not playing by the rules, either.

Those are some of the heartbreaking and infuriating insights from a story in this month’s edition of Boston magazine about Aaron Swartz’ arrest and indictment, his father Bob’s attempts to extricate his son from the legal mess, and the relentless pressure by federal prosecutors to make an example of him. The punishment they sought for Aaron was draconian even by the feds’ standards: 13 felony counts under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), with a possible prison term of 35 years, and a $1 million fine. Bank robbers and terrorists have received more lenient sentences. But U. S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz declared that Swartz’ prosecution would serve as a warning to other “hackers” about “stealing” from computers.

Aaron SwartzWhat did Swartz “steal”, exactly? Nothing. He downloaded files from JSTOR, an online archive for academic journals. Swartz used the network at MIT, where his father served as an adviser, under its “open access” policy, which included its subscription to JSTOR. Swartz had long held the view that scientific research should be freely available and not locked away behind a paywall. This wasn’t even the first time Swartz had performed such a download; in 2008 he grabbed 2.7 million documents from PACER, a federal court document system that usually charged for such access, even though they were public records. That attracted the FBI’s attention, but they found Swartz had committed no crime.

Swartz in fact had devoted much of his young life to finding ways to liberate information. Some of his earliest work included coauthoring the RSS 1.0 specification, a syndication format for Web-based content; founding a company to create wiki-based technology, which eventually merged with Reddit; and co-founding Demand Progress, an online advocacy group known mainly for its opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Swartz had also worked with Lawrence Lessig, a law professor and an advocate for intellectual property reform, studying under him at Stanford and later as a research fellow at Harvard. Swartz aided Lessig in developing the Creative Commons alternative copyright framework.

Given Swartz’ professional credentials and his history of “hacktivism”, what made his bulk downloads from JSTOR any more egregious than his previous exploits? The fact that Secret Service agents responded to the report of a “security breach” in the MIT network provides a possible clue:

When the Secret Service arrived, Bob [Swartz] says, the first thing they asked was whether any of the university’s classified research was threatened.

It wasn’t, but the nature of Swartz’ download, from a laptop hidden in a utility closet, made it look more suspicious to the feds. And it’s not surprising that a university receiving nearly a billion dollars in federal grants might toe the line with regards to any demand from the government, its hacker ethic be damned.

Intellectual property enforcement also played a role in Swartz’ prosecution. JSTOR subscriptions are not cheap, costing schools up to $50,000 per year. But MIT had a policy that not only allowed anyone on campus to use their network, but did not require authentication to access JSTOR. It was only after Swartz’ bulk download that suddenly “unauthorized network access” became an issue, allowing him to be charged under the CFAA. At worst, Swartz cost JSTOR some bandwidth during his download (to its credit, JSTOR settled with Swartz out of court and pursued no further legal action), but he didn’t steal anything. The concept of intellectual property, and the framework used by the state to enforce copyright, rests on the logically bankrupt notion that downloading a copy of something without permission constitutes “theft”. Never mind that Swartz did have permission in this case — once he broke some imaginary and unwritten rule (“too many documents”, apparently), his action rose to the level of a felony in the federal government’s view. This preposterous reasoning was all prosecutors needed to go after Swartz.

It was Aaron’s misfortune that he did his deed in a district with one of the country’s most notorious cyber-crime prosecutors. Stephen Heymann, the lead prosecutor in Swartz’ case, is no stranger to ruining young men’s lives. In 1994 Heymann prosecuted a student, also at MIT, for creating a bulletin board system which allowed users to trade copyrighted software (a precursor to the file-sharing networks common today). His case was dismissed on grounds that he didn’t intend to profit from the downloads, which prompted Congress to strengthen the CFAA to allow prosecution even if profit wasn’t a motive.

Heymann later won the conviction of 16-year-old Jonathan James, who had gained access to NASA and Department of Defense systems, and became the first juvenile to be incarcerated (via house arrest) for hacking. Heymann again targeted James in 2008, in an investigation of an identity theft ring tied to break-ins of department store networks. Although the Secret Service never found any evidence James was involved in the hacks, he killed himself in 2008, saying he had “no faith in the ‘justice’ system.”

Nor should anyone else, really. The system has never been about “justice,” and it seemed even less so in the circumstances surrounding Aaron Swartz’ case. This case was about projecting government power and crushing anyone who dared to upset the status quo, as Swartz often did. And anyone wishing to remain in the elites’ good graces — like MIT, and most other public research universities — had best do whatever is necessary to please their masters. And despite their pleas of “neutrality” in this case, MIT administrators did exactly that. They provided Heymann with every scrap of information they had about Swartz’ activities, usually with just a phone call. Bob Swartz pleaded with them to negotiate a settlement, asking: “Why are you destroying my son?” The school never gave him a satisfactory answer.

With the arrogance characteristic of state prosecutors, Heymann seemed shocked at Swartz’ temerity to fight the charges. Most outrageously, he likened Swartz to a rapist:

Negotiations continued, but in the end Aaron told Heymann no. He would fight the felony charges and go to trial.

Later, Heymann would tell MIT that he was “dumbfounded” by Aaron’s decision, and claimed that Aaron was “systematically re-victimizing” the university by choosing to go through proceedings. Publicly criticizing MIT at a trial, Heymann said, was akin to “attacking a rape victim based on sleeping with other men.”

If anyone was “raped” in this scenario, it was Aaron. Humiliated, cut off from many of his friends — his relationship with his girlfriend, Quinn Norton, ended after Norton tried to talk to Heymann and wound up giving the prosecutor a key piece of evidence against him — and seeing no end to the persecution, Aaron Swartz decided to end it himself.

In the end, there were no winners. No one was ever hurt by Swartz’ actions, no vital national interest served, no copyrights protected, no damage to repair. Instead the world lost a brilliant young mind who understood better than most the power knowledge has to liberate the world. Perhaps the state understands that too, which is why it tries so desperately to crush those who attempt to set it free.

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Ted Cruz mad at Obama for not throwing more pot users in cages http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/11/ted-cruz-mad-at-obama-for-not-throwing-more-pot-users-in-cages/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/11/ted-cruz-mad-at-obama-for-not-throwing-more-pot-users-in-cages/#comments Sat, 11 Jan 2014 08:30:36 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12799 Senator Ted Cruz (R-Alberta Texas), a “Tea Party” Republican and ostensibly a champion of states’ rights, is unhappy with President Obama’s decision to not round up marijuana users in Washington and Colorado:

“A whole lot of folks now are talking about legalizing pot. The brownies you had this morning, provided by the state of Colorado,” he jokingly said during his keynote speech at Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Policy Orientation.

Oh Ted, what a knee-slapper!

“And you can make arguments on that issue,” Cruz continued. “You can make reasonable arguments on that issue. The president earlier this past year announced the Department of Justice is going to stop prosecuting certain drug crimes. Didn’t change the law.”

The problem, as Cruz sees it, isn’t just limited to Obama’s decision to not interfere with Washington’s and Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. The president is running the government like a “corrupt dictator” and only enforcing the laws that suit him. And perhaps Cruz has a point. But let’s look at a list of Cruz’ complaints:

Cruz is on solid ground when criticizing Obama’s unilateral delay of the ACA employer mandate. He simply doesn’t have the executive authority to make such a decision, as a lawsuit filed in October to block the delay argued. But it all falls apart when Cruz goes after Obama on immigration and drug policy.

For one, discretion in law enforcement is not the same thing as suspending a law. Prosecutors have always had substantial leeway in choosing which cases to pursue and what evidence to present, so Obama’s directives to immigration and Justice officials on relaxing deportation rules and drug offense indictments is not flouting the law but simply changing the enforcement strategy. This is not uncommon.

But more to the point, Cruz is attacking Obama for not strictly enforcing immoral laws. No government has moral authority to use violence against people, especially so when those people have violated no one’s rights. Smoking a plant and crossing imaginary political borders are crimes only because the state has declared them so. It’s blindingly clear that the federal government has no compelling interest in criminalizing drugs nor does it have a constitutional mandate to do so. And arguably it need not have jurisdiction over immigration enforcement — the constitution provides for federal authority over naturalization, or the laws and process by which one becomes a citizen. A states’ rights advocate, as Tea Party Republicans purport to be, might argue that border enforcement is the domain of border states.

Cruz seems to be repudiating both a cornerstone of the new Republican grassroots platform, and arguing for more federal infrastructure to maintain policies any true conservative should oppose. This is the sort of cognitive dissonance, not to mention rank hypocrisy, that keeps Republicans so woefully out of step with much of the nation.

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Economist in NYT: Abolish corporate income tax http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/06/economist-in-nyt-abolish-corporate-income-tax/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/06/economist-in-nyt-abolish-corporate-income-tax/#comments Mon, 06 Jan 2014 22:36:10 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12784 From one of the more unlikely corners of the interwebs — the op-ed section of the New York Times – comes a call to abolish the corporate income tax:

The United States may well have the highest effective marginal corporate income tax rate of any developed country. Jack Mintz, a public finance economist and director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, puts the rate close to 35 percent, which is also the statutory rate. Other economists, using different techniques, calculate the marginal rate to be as low as 23 percent. But both figures are miles above zero.

They are also miles above our 13 percent average corporate income tax rate — the ratio of corporate taxes to total corporate profits. The fact that the marginal tax rate, whether 23 percent, 35 percent or somewhere in between, is so much larger than the average rate suggests that a sizable share of corporate profits and production is ending up overseas and untaxed.

Making, rather than just stating, this case requires constructing a large-scale computer simulation model of the United States economy as it interacts over time with other nations’ economies, and then seeing how the model reacts when you change the American corporate income tax. I’ve developed such a model with three colleagues through the Tax Analysis Center, a nonpartisan research group. Our findings make a very strong, worker-based case for corporate tax reform.

The author, economist Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University, argues that eliminating the corporate income tax will produce “rapid and dramatic increases in American investment, output and real wages, making the tax cut self-financing to a significant extent.” It’s an idea even President Obama embraced, at least partially — in 2012, he proposed lowering the corporate income tax a few points. Kotlikoff’s plan is considerably more radical, although he also calls for raising personal income tax rates to make up any decrease in revenues, and taxing capital gains at the same rate as income, among other reforms. Elsewhere, Kotlikoff has proposed what he calls a “Common Sense Tax” plan, which assesses a 13% flat tax on payroll and a 25% tax on personal income above $100,000.

Nobody in the mainstream press ever seems to want to propose ideas to make government do a lot less of what it does now, and thereby reduce the need for taxation, period, let alone “reform”. But talking about lowering or eliminating taxes in the Newspaper of Record is still a pretty good step forward.

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America’s First Legal Marijuana Purchase Happened a Long Time Ago http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/02/americas-first-legal-marijuana-purchase-happened-a-long-time-ago/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/02/americas-first-legal-marijuana-purchase-happened-a-long-time-ago/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 01:31:45 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12770 TMZ calls 32-year-old Coloradan Sean Azzariti “the first man to make a legal weed purchase in the United States…  ever.”

But of course that’s wrong — and not just because people have been buying it legally for years in California, where getting a “prescription” couldn’t be much easier and marijuana shops abound in strip malls.

People somehow forget — or don’t know — that marijuana was legal in most of the country for most of U.S. history and everything was just fine.

So for those who aren’t familiar with this history, here’s a brief overview from my book, Libertarianism Today:

Cocaine and narcotics prohibition came about for dubious reasons — pleasing China, the pharmaceutical industry’s desire to eliminate competition, bigotry, World War I, and fanatical temperance activists — but the decision to prohibit marijuana was even less justifiable.

In 1930, the government established the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, led by Commissioner Harry Anslinger. In his position, Anslinger essentially decided who could legally manufacture narcotics for medical purposes in the United States, and he granted that privilege to just a handful of companies. In exchange for favorable treatment, these companies would otherwise do Anslinger’s bidding; specifically, they would provide Congressional testimony as needed, including, when Anslinger wanted it, testimony as to the great potential harm of marijuana.

It is odd that anyone would have pursued marijuana prohibition in the 1930s, if only because so few people used it, but Anslinger targeted it anyway. No one is sure why, but one suggested reason is because, like any bureaucracy, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had to justify its budget, particularly during the Great Depression. Plus, some suggest, Anslinger and the bureau wanted publicity.

During the 1930s, Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics launched a propaganda campaign against pot. In speeches, Anslinger declared: “Take all the good in Dr. Jekyll and the worst in Mr. Hyde — the result is opium. Marihuana may be considered more harmful. . . . It is Mr. Hyde alone.” The bureau was eager to provide “information” on the putative dangers of marijuana to journalists; marijuana horror stories began to appear in newspapers and periodicals, virtually all of them acknowledging Anslinger’s bureau or its publications for their “facts.” A 1934 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article described the effects of marijuana:

[T]he physical attack of marijuana upon the body is rapid and devastating. In the initial stages, the skin turns a peculiar yellow color, the lips become discolored, dried and cracked. Soon the mouth is affected, the gums are inflamed and softened. Then the teeth are loosened and eventually, if the habit is persisted in, they fall out. . . . [People in traveling jazz bands] take a few puffs off a marijuana cigarette if they are tired. . . . It gives them a lift and they can go on playing even though they may be virtually paralyzed from the waist down, which is one of the effects marijuana can have.

Anslinger himself published an article in American Magazine called “Marijuana: Assassin of Youth,” in which he told of a young “marijuana addict” who, while “pitifully crazed,” slaughtered his family of five with an ax.

Another likely factor leading to prohibition was, once again, bigotry, this time mostly against Mexicans. Mexicans brought marijuana smoking to the United States when about one million of them migrated here after their country’s 1910 revolution. Some people resented Mexicans anyway, in part for their willingness to work for low wages during the Depression, and marijuana provided another excuse to attack them. Anslinger also testified before Congress that marijuana “causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes.”

Powerful interests lined up in support of marijuana prohibition. Big pharmaceutical companies did so because they were beholden to Anslinger and because they did not want competition from marijuana, which they could not profit from themselves because it was a common plant. Chemical company DuPont supported the legislation because it would treat hemp (a form of cannabis that cannot be used to get high, but which serves numerous industrial purposes very well) just like other marijuana, which would eliminate competition for DuPont’s synthetic products.

Still, despite the propaganda and prejudice, there was not much public demand for marijuana prohibition when Congress nonetheless passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. There was not much evidence or debate, either. As legal scholars Charles H. Whitebread II and Richard J. Bonnie put it, the hearings “are near comic examples of dereliction of legislative responsibility.”

Anslinger was the primary witness at the Congressional hearings, and he presented stories of the boy with the ax, another man who decapitated his best friend while under the influence, a 15-year-old who “went insane,” and other anecdotes derived from newspaper clippings.

The American Medical Association provided a witness, a Dr. William C. Woodward, who pointed out that Anslinger had little more than hearsay evidence from newspapers to back up his claims. Although marijuana use in prisons and by children were supposed justifications for the law, Woodward pointed out that there was no evidence as to how many prisoners actually used marijuana, or how many children used it. For refusing to endorse the legislation, Congressmen accused Woodward of “obstruction.”

When the bill made it to the House floor, it received less than two minutes of debate. A Republican Congressman asked whether the American Medical Association supported the bill, and a committee member, Fred M. Vinson — who had been present and asked questions at length during the committee hearings, and who would later become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court — responded with a bald-faced lie: “Their Doctor Wentworth (sic) came down here. They support this bill 100 percent.” It was late at night, so they passed the bill without further substantive discussion, and soon the president signed it.

For more history of the war on drugs, and background on a wide range of other topics, you can buy Libertarianism Today in paperback for just $3.95 or download the audiobook for free from Laissez-Faire Books. It’s also available in hardcover, for Kindle, and in the Google Play store

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2014: the year of the sweet leaf http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/12/31/2014-the-year-of-the-sweet-leaf/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/12/31/2014-the-year-of-the-sweet-leaf/#comments Wed, 01 Jan 2014 04:28:48 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12752 Tomorrow, the country’s first legal retail shops to sell recreational marijuana will open for business in Colorado. This comes 14 short months since the state’s voters approved the legalized possession, use, and sale of marijuana. Washington state, which also passed a pot legalization measure, will soon follow, probably sometime in June. It’s even happening internationally: Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana at the national level — which may spark a “tidal wave” of legalization across South American countries that have grown weary of the expensive and bloody U.S.-led war on drugs.

The impact of this historic milestone is more than just legal or political; it is a signal of the mainstream acceptance of a product which for decades has been subject to fearmongering propaganda and sometimes brutal interdiction by a state desperate to eradicate its use. Now that Colorado and Washington have opened the gates to legalization, there is no hope for the drug warriors to stop the flood. Not that they won’t try: even now they continue their dire and uninformed warnings about the dangers of pot.

Perhaps the biggest change will come in how marijuana-related stories are covered by the news media. The Denver Post has launched a new Web site, TheCannabist.co — so far the only major daily newspaper in the country with a site dedicated to marijuana. (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a marijuana blog as part of their main site.) Pot will be covered — in reviews of shops and strains, stories of events and crimes — in much the same way as alcohol. Alongside reviews of pinot noirs, you might find evaluations of Purple Kush. This coverage has existed for years, of course, in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now that 21-plus year-olds can buy the stuff like they can a bottle of wine, societal attitudes will likely shift as well. Lifting the stigma of illegality means no more furtive discussions of pot in public and back-alley deals. We may well be arguing about the relative merits of various strains like we do micro-brews.

Legalization isn’t perfect. There are now many more rules to follow for people who wish to engage in the marijuana trade, and it’s clear that Colorado’s current rules favor the established players in the medical marijuana industry. Banks are still restricted in accepting money from businesses tied to illicit drugs, which marijuana remains classified as at the federal level, so it’s a cash-only business for now. Taxes on retail marijuana will be punitively excessive, reaching as high as 30% in Denver. There are also limits on how much pot one can possess, and strict bans on public consumption.

But for those who can find a private place to light up with their newly-purchased bud tomorrow, they may very well believe what Ozzy Osbourne sang over 40 years ago: “Soon the world will love you, sweet leaf.”

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The Pestilential State http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/11/25/the-pestilential-state/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/11/25/the-pestilential-state/#comments Mon, 25 Nov 2013 17:55:39 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12712 Mongol siegeThe Mongols surrounded the city walls. Genoese merchants hoped to wait them out inside the Black Sea trading city of Caffa. Technically these European merchants were guests of Uzbeg Khan of the Golden Horde. But the Genoese had become unwelcome. They repeatedly disrespected the authority of Islam and the khan himself. They dared to trade in Turkic slaves and had even summoned Italian troops to repel the previous khan’s soldiers. Now, when one of their own had killed a Muslim in the port city of Tana, these foreign "guests" defied the law by giving the murderer sanctuary here in Caffa, then refusing entrance to their hosts and rightful rulers at the edge of the Mongol Empire.

This time, there would be no reinforcements from Italy. Instead, the Mongols would fall to the invisible arrows of a plague that had followed the Silk Road from the arid plains of central Asia. While the Genoese were safe within the city of Caffa, the Mongol bodies piled up outside its walls.

In many respects, this scene was an echo of earlier history. The Greeks had fallen to plague outside the high walls of Troy, if Homer’s telling is right. The Bible says that Sennacherib ended his siege of Jerusalem because "the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians … and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead.…" According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, the Lord’s weapon was plague.

But the Mongols of the Golden Horde did something unprecedented both in the history of warfare and the history of disease. They piled their dead into catapults and hurled them over the city walls, raining diseased corpses on the besieged Genoese.

Unlike the Trojans and the Jews, the merchants were not on their home turf. And because Caffa was a port city, they could board their ships and flee the Crimea. It seems they brought the plague home with them.

"If this account is correct," writes bacteriologist Mark Wheelis in a paper for the Center for Disease Control, "Caffa should be recognized as the site of the most spectacular incident of biological warfare ever, with the Black Death as its disastrous consequence."

A century later, the population of Europe was only half the size it had been before the plague came west.

But even if the disease reached the West by way of the late Mongol Empire, causing what Wheelis calls "the greatest public health disaster in recorded history," ultimate blame for the cataclysm may not fall to the Mongol khan or his soldiers. Instead we should look to the conduct of European monarchs — and one in particular.

I tell the rest of the story in today’s featured article at FEE:

BlackDeathAtFEE

Black Death and Taxes

They had more to do with each other than you might think

NOVEMBER 25, 2013

The plague and the Little Ice Age didn’t do Europe any favors. But the excesses of the State amplified the damage.

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