It is the tendency of the state to compile as much information as possible about its subjects, but to persecute individuals who collect and divulge information about its agents and the way they operate. The state and its supporters want to keep tabs on you, but angrily (and violently) protest when you try to keep track of state actors. In the news today we saw two examples of this:
- WikiLeaks has fallen victim to a major distributed denial of service attack for which the regime apologists at Anti-Leaks have taken responsibility (though there is speculation about this being a state-sponsored action). The attack, now more than a week in duration, coincides with the whistle-blower site’s recent release of the lastest dump of documents gleaned from the Stratfor intelligence leak. Recently released documents detail a privately administered domestic intelligence-gathering operation called TrapWire. According to PC Magazine and Russia Today, the leaks reveal that the TrapWire program is designed to compile information on targets across the United States from a network of surveillance cameras, incorporating vehicle locations and behavioral data in order to detect patterns that may signal that someone is involved in undesirable activity. The companies behind TrapWire, Abraxas and Stratfor, are reportedly chock full of former U.S. intelligence officials still serving their former masters.
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.
What does it take to be considered a legitimate news organization?
Gothamist, the operator of nine city-centric blogs that cover local news, events and culture have finally received their NYPD press credentials which allows them access to on-scene reporting or press events that are otherwise closed to others. This was after almost 8 years, countless emails, phone calls, two appeal hearings, $5,000, and getting high-profile civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel involved.
In their very detailed guide they explain how the process works, and how it favors the establishment players:
If you work for a mainstream outlet, like a newspaper, radio, or television station, you can stop reading right now. Your boss has no doubt processed dozens of press pass candidates through DCPI, and will have no trouble getting you a pass. This seems to apply to any old media outlet, no matter how small, so if you write the produce column for your food co-op newsletter, you’re gold.
As part of the process, the applicant has to show proof that he or she covered a certain number of major events within the past two years, a barrier-to-entry hurdle for those in a fledging news organization denied access to many major events. Furthermore, the qualification for these major events are those that give deference and respect to the powers that be– events that had an NYPD detailed presence, and mayoral and/or city council press announcements.
In other words, the only news that counts is that which covers officially-sanctioned events which flatter the egos of politicians, which is why Gothamist’s “Occupy Wall Street” coverage was rejected(!) even though there was an overwhelming police presence at what could anyways be considered a significant news event absent the NYPD.
Ladies and gentlemen, so much for an “independent” news media.
Many libertarians, perhaps most notably Thomas E. Woods, support the decentralization of power from the federal government, including the power of nullification. Many people fear and denounce this power, often because they like the immense power of the central state and are supporters of big government. There are, however, some very real concerns by people who desire freedom as their highest political goal. A simple question, which is asked in various forms is “if decentralization leads to more freedom, why did African slavery thrive in a more decentralized America, and only go away (well, sort of) when the central state forced it to go away?” Similar statements could be said of Jim Crow.
Tom Woods briefly addresses a critical point which bears emphasis: a major problem with decentralization is that decentralizing power may have huge negative effects for people who cannot vote. The very people who are most obsessed with them not having political power are the people who are most empowered by the receding power of the central state. This points to the people that libertarian activists should concentrate on protecting: non-citizens (including both legal and illegal immigrants) and convicted felons in states which strip them of the franchise. As most minorities have the ability to exercise the vote, the greatest evils of the past have no chance of being repeated. And some unprecedented benefits may come about. Without the significant support of the federal government, individual states could not maintain the murderous drug war at the levels at which it is currently prosecuted. Family and morals-destroying welfare programs would have to be greatly scaled back without the ability to print money. Taxes would have to be levied to pay for these things, forcing citizens to carefully evaluate just how much they wish to impoverish themselves in the attempt to eradicate various victimless crimes.
The benefits don’t end there. Freedom would be catching in this country for several reasons. Our national myths support the value of freedom. The proximity of states and the freedom of movement among them, in the face of massive differences in the amount of liberty inside them, would mean that the most inventive, industrious people would tend to leave less free areas and go to more free ones. This would impoverish the most oppressive states, further pressuring them to liberate. Perhaps the single most important factor which would allow liberty to really catch in the United States is that the US military would not be looking to crush these efforts, as it does in other countries. If liberty is to be permitted by any government, it is likely that it will have to be permitted in the USA, as the American government is among the world’s most fervent supporters of foisting government on people, whether they like it or not, in the name of “stability.”
Just a couple days ago the New York City council voted to ban the practice by sanitation workers to sticker the window of vehicles that were violating the alternate-side street cleaning rules. Whilst the vehicle’s owner would still receive a parking violation fine, they are no longer allowed to punish drivers by defacing their vehicles with the hard-to-remove stickers. While I find the ban agreeable, I have a bone to pick with the general legislative approach.
One of the problems with positive law is that the mindset it encourages is antithetical to what should otherwise be a presumptive prohibition of aggression and the security of both property and personal liberties. Unlike the “negative” rights of common law, the legislative process of positive law will all too often err and enshrine legal principles that are unjust. This is not to say that legislators do not get it right sometimes– for example laws that prohibit murder, theft and fraud are all [potentially] perfectly just laws.
With a positive law mindset, actions that are not yet defined in the statutes lie in a grey area neither prohibited nor permitted “under the law”. And later, if ever, when the statutes are codified, the result could be in having laws that don’t prohibit or permit enough, or in fact laws that prohibit or permit too much. This is a problem inherent to a process that tries to encapsulate the entire range of possible actions and to explicitly codify them into the written law.
The presumptions now change- anything not explicitly forbidden is arguably permissible. Actions which are now prohibited lie beyond the reach of justice if they were carried out before the law was passed under the legal principle ex post facto. Of course it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way– laws that forbids theft and injury could already be understood to include all forms of theft, damage and injury without the codification of specific actions, i.e. “killing with a knife in the right hand using a stabbing motion”. What the positivist mindset encourages is the tendency to look at the codified word as the source of justice, so that one could then hair-split it so that the actual action is not specified and thereby not prohibited.
That said, property defacement should be considered a forbidden action (regardless of the actual codified law) and therefore there was no actual need for a specific law to ban the stickering practice. Instead the government could have enforced the already existing laws against property defacement to stop this punitive, vindictive crime.