Monthly Archives: August 2013

Do Property Rights Need Political Authority?

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No Time 4 BullI recently published a post on No Time 4 Bull, engaging a post on Bleeding Heart Libertarians arguing that by explaining away justifications for the state, one also argues away justifications for property rights.

This seems nonsensical to me. Please take a look at both and let me know what you think.

In Case You Thought Foreign Aid Was About Helping the Poor

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Foreign AidOnce again, I am here to share an email I got from some guy named Jim who lives in Washington, D.C., whom I’ve never met, but for some reason thinks he is my “representative.” We’ve actually become pen pals of sorts, though he insists on making me fill out a form to write to him, while he just sends me email directly.

In this series of discussion, we talk about foreign aid. You know, that stuff that lifts poor countries out of poverty (or so we’re told, even though this has never happened in the history of mankind). I’m glad Jim doesn’t pull that crap with me, but fully admits that the purpose of foreign aid is for the US to exert its dominance in the world.

Dear Mr. Fegley:

Thank you for contacting me regarding U.S. foreign aid. I appreciate hearing from you.

The U.S. government spends about one percent of the federal budget on assistance programs because we have vital strategic interests across the globe. Providing specific foreign assistance to strategically important countries gives us leverage and permits us to influence and otherwise affect decisions and events in those countries.

First of all, I would hate for the “about one percent of the federal budget” part to obscure the how much money that actually is. The actual reported expenditures of the US government in 2012 was $3.538 trillion dollars, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This means that over $35 billion was spent on “assistance programs.” This is $35 thousand million. Nothing to scoff at.

And, like my previous post regarding Jim, I ask questions about treating others like one would like to be treated. Does this idea go out of the window when it comes to foreign policy? What Jim is describing here, that is, giving money to other governments to influence their decision making, is also known as bribery. If you or I gave money to a politician in order to influence his or her decision making in an official capacity, we would be brought up on charges (unless we get away with it). There is absolutely no way most Americans would accept foreign governments paying the US government money in order to affect governmental decisions. This would obviously be a mockery of the idea of representative government. Kind of seems contradictory to “spreading democracy,” doesn’t it?

With all aid programs, it is important they are routinely scrutinized to determine if they are the best use of American taxpayer dollars, particularly in this difficult economic climate. I have supported efforts by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and others, to limit U.S. assistance to countries such as Egypt, Libya and Pakistan unless they cooperate with U.S. policies.

Yes, indeed. Withholding highway funding from states who don’t cooperate with US government policies ought to be considered extortion. But since Egyptians, Libyans and Pakistanis don’t pay taxes to the US government (that I know of), this ought to be considered a textbook definition of bribery.

As a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, I closely monitor our aid programs around the world.

I really value your effort to get in touch with me to share your thoughts, as many Idahoans do. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on this or other issues.

Very Truly Yours

James E. Risch
United States Senator

 

Why Doesn’t the Left Dislike Obama More?

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In modern American political discourse, one of the mysteries that continues to baffle me is the overwhelming cognitive dissonance of the mainstream Left in regards to their loyalty to Obama. In case you missed it, here is a video I posted about a while back that featured Obama supporters being told about Romney’s planned policies. None of the people being interviewed liked them. However, the interviewer reveals at the end that all of these measures were in fact already implemented by Obama. Many of these people then refused to believe it or became defensive.

Why is this the case? Why are so many ready to rush to the defense of Obama when there is no way they would do the same thing for someone with an “R” after their name?

To be fair to all those who hold political parties in higher regard than principles, I suppose I could ask the same thing regarding W. Bush’s supporters. Many of them expressed support for economic freedom and smaller government, yet by large held their tongue when these ideals were being disregarded by Bush.

Though it is open to debate, I think the hypocrisy is greater on the part of the mainstream Left. As a whole, those of the mainstream Right don’t hold economic liberty as nearly as high of a priority as they do the military and social legislation. In this sense, Bush gave them what they wanted (mostly; even with Republican-controlled legislative and executive branches, Planned Parenthood still received federal funding). But it seems that Obama has betrayed nearly everything the mainstream Left holds as ideal.

Civil Liberties

Without question, Obama has one of the worst records on civil liberties. He has welched on several campaign promises in this matter, not the least of which is his failure to close Guantanamo Bay, where people whom no one has charged with any crime are kept, some of whom are force fed.

Revelations about the NSA just confirmed what many of us already believed what was going on: mass spying on the American people. Why else would the NSA have been building a gigantic data center in Utah?

Watch NSA Collects ‘Word for Word’ Every Domestic Communication on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

And who can forget the Constitution-free zones we call airports? Apparently, the frog has been boiled and the only ones still making a peep about the TSA are us who actually care about freedom.

He also kills Americans without trial.

Transparency

Any rational person can see that Obama’s promise to be the most transparent regime in US history is a joke. Just look at the treatments of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. Indeed, Obama’s website deleted its promise to protect whistleblowers. As well, there has been spying on journalists, along with pressure to get them to reveal their confidential sources.

Foreign Wars

The Peace Prize-winning president escalated a war in Afghanistan, conducts drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, started a war in Libya, gives weapons to Syrian rebels who have beheaded Christians and used child soldiers, etc., yet I can’t remember the last time I saw an anti-war protest.

Domestic Wars

Of course, there is no end to the federal drug war in sight. The DHS continues to encourage the militarization of local police forces.

Helping the Poor

I’m surprised one doesn’t hear about this more, but do you think someone actually cares about the poor when he attempts repeatedly to limit the tax deductions for charitable giving? To me, this sounds like someone who would rather have the poor dependent on government than out of poverty.

And so…

I suppose I could go on, especially regarding how corporatist Obama is, how fascist his health care plan is, whatever. I’ve heard many on the Left say, “Obama isn’t liberal.” According to modern definitions of the term, I would agree. But then, why do so many people who call themselves “liberals” support him?

Note: Even though it was a bit cumbersome, I took care to make it distinct that, in the context of this post, I am talking about the “mainstream” Left and Right. I would like to acknowledge that there are those who consider themselves Leftists who are vocally opposed to the Obama administration’s assault on civil liberties and continued warfare state.

Does Senator Jim Risch Care About Iranians?

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As I’ve stated in the past, I send letters to the Idaho representatives in the Senate and US Congress using DownsizeDC.org‘s letter-writing software (which makes it extremely convenient). I don’t do this because I expect it to make an actual difference in their policies, but because I desire to express my dissent and it doesn’t cost but a few moments. I also sometimes get a canned response back, which often is meaningless because it tells me what I already know and that they will keep my thoughts in mind without telling me what their position is. But, once in a while, they express an actual stance, and then I copy it onto my blog to let the world know what criminal activities they are up to.

A recent response has to do with sanctions against Iran. Here is what Senator Jim Risch said:

Senator Jim Risch

Senator Jim Risch

Dear Mr. Fegley:

Thank you for contacting me regarding sanctions on Iran. I appreciate hearing from you.

While Iran has elected a new president, Iran has not elected a new leader. The supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, handpicked the six people he would accept to serve as president. One of these people, the new president Hassan Rouhani, was also the chief Iranian negotiator for two years and was instrumental in helping cloak Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

I find this statement interesting, based on the fact that the US government has interfered with democratically elected politicians in Iran in the past. There is no way most Americans would accept Iranian intelligence forces messing with American elections, so I want to ask, does the Golden Rule apply here?

Also relevant is the fact that the US government possesses a number of nuclear weapons and also has the status of being the only government to use them on civilian targets. Is it hypocritical to then interfere with other countries obtaining them, or is it necessary for survival, as some might have you believe?

Despite the recent political changes, Iran must demonstrate its willingness to pursue a new path before sanctions should be lifted. As a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, I closely monitor Iran. If legislation is introduced to repeal sanctions I will give it careful consideration.

What really bothers me about sanctions is that the people in power, the ones whose minds or actions these sanctions are intended to change, are the ones most insulated from the pain of sanctions. Millions of Iranians will starve to death before any heads of state have to skip a meal. We’re told by the government that sanctions are effective, but are they? Decades of sanctions haven’t changed Cuban policies. Sanctions on Iraq were reported to have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, but this didn’t change Sadaam’s demeanor enough for Western powers to not go to war against him.

Rather, it seems, sanctions don’t do anything to improve relations. All they do is put up barriers to trade and make the living standards of poor Iranians (or whomever) much worse.

I really value your effort to get in touch with me to share your thoughts, as many Idahoans do. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on this or other issues.

Very Truly Yours

James E. Risch
United States Senator

Baby Libertarianism: Property Rights

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Body Suit for Property Rights BabyBaby Libertarianism

Today, I’m beginning a series on what I call, “baby libertarianism”: problems or fallacies common to those who are new to libertarian ideas but tend to be grown out of as they study more and become more “mature” libertarians. To borrow a phrase from my friend Dr. Charles, baby libertarians will spill the libertarian mush and pull down the libertarian drapes as they grow up.

I do not mean to imply that I don’t exhibit any properties of a baby libertarian, nor that I couldn’t benefit from more self-reflection, but I hope that this discussion may profit those who consider themselves libertarians. And if I mention anyone in particular, I don’t mean to say that he or she is a baby libertarian; they are only to serve as examples of ways baby libertarians tend to think.

Property Rights

Libertarianism, at least that based in the natural rights and/or Rothbardian tradition(s), is heavily based in property rights: you own your body and you own the property that your body creates by mixing your labor with natural resources, as well as property that you trade for and are voluntarily given. Using aggression (an initiation of force) against someone else’s person or property violates their property rights and is frowned upon by libertarians. It is with this that we arrive at the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP).

One of the more common fallacies made by baby libertarians is taking the NAP further than they ought; that is, making it an all-encompassing ethic rather than a starting point. They neglect to recognize that there is a difference between law and morality; that there are things that don’t violate NAP that ought not to be done.

For example, in a recent post by Amanda Billyrock, she writes, “Do I believe that the initiation of force against a peaceful person is the worst act a human could commit? Absolutely.” I commented,

I think it’s a mistake to make the non-aggression principle the sole or highest governing principle of ethics. Rather, I like how Hazlitt describes law (or that which you and I would see as rules governing the proper use of force), that is, as a subset of ethics. There are obviously things that are wrong but should not be governed by law and acts that don’t violate the non-aggression principle that seem to be worse than some initiations of force.

For example, I think most people would say that cheating on your spouse is worse than taking a candy bar from a store without paying (not that most people saying something is the decider of right and wrong, but you get my point). Or, perhaps, neglecting to keep promises to your child about attending their sporting events (or what have you) is worse than embezzling post-its from work.

Thus, I submit, there are acts that don’t aggress that are worse than acts that do.

And I think this is an important point, especially if we desire that libertarians represent themselves to the world as courteous and kind people. As an example of what not to do, I offer Adam Kokesh’s use of a sample of a friend’s guitar track as an intro for his show. Though I cannot cite the show number that he talked about this (and it was over a year ago), as I remember, his friend wanted compensation for Adam’s use of his music. Adam doesn’t believe that intellectual property is legitimate and refused to pay him. IP being legitimate or not, the courteous thing to do would have been to compensate his friend.

Is it not the case that artists using services like Noise Trade or Band Camp partially depend on the generosity of listeners to pay for their music, or leave a tip, even though the music could be obtained for free? Is it also not the case that anti-IP advocates use things like these as examples to explain why IP is unnecessary for artists to have an incentive to create? In this case, Adam is not providing a model that should be emulated.

Another case I’d like to mention is provided by my friend Brock (who blogs at The Propensity to Assume). At a weekly social engagement that is called “The Friday Forum,” I had left my bag on a seat and went to the restroom. When I had returned, Brock was occupying that seat and said something like, “I homesteaded this seat,” or “I don’t recognize property rights,” or some other joke using libertarian vernacular. I’m sure Brock felt that he wasn’t violating my rights, and it is not as though that particular seat was of special importance to me, but let me repeat that in our conduct with others, there is much more to consider than rights alone. Ideally, we will be considerate of the desires of others. A good host will make sure his guest is comfortable, provide refreshments, and make sure the guest’s needs are met before his own. In Brock’s defense, I will say he has done this for me when I have visited his residence.

So, I urge libertarians to know that there is much more to ethics than NAP and our service to others ought to be more than simply not violating their rights. Libertarianism focuses so much on negative rights that baby libertarians might be fooled into thinking that they are all that matter. Don’t fall in this trap.