May 122011

The White House’s ‘death of bin Laden’ story has come apart at the seams. Will it make any difference that before 48 hours had passed the story had changed so much that it no longer bore any resemblance to President Obama’s Sunday evening broadcast and has lost all credibility?

So far it has made no difference to the once-fabled news organization, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which on May 9, eight days later, is still repeating the propaganda that the SEALs killed bin Laden in his Pakistani compound, where bin Laden lived next door to the Pakistani Military Academy surrounded by the Pakistani army.

Not even the president of Pakistan finds the story implausible. The BBC reports that the president is launching a full-scale investigation of how bin Laden managed to live for years in an army garrison town without being noticed.

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Feb 052011

When our founding fathers established this nation, they did so with the intention that government would be very limited and that there would be a tremendous amount of liberty and freedom. But today that is such a distant memory that we don’t even remember what “the land of the free and the home of the brave” actually means anymore. Our lives are constrained by literally millions of laws, rules and regulations and it gets worse every single day. The federal government, state governments, local governments and even homeowners associations have become absolutely tyrannical. There is a “law” or a “rule” for almost everything now, and many of them are absolutely ridiculous. Big Brother is ripping our liberties and freedoms away from us at a blistering pace. Just about any activity that you can think of other than sitting completely still in utter silence in your own home is tightly regulated by government. This is not what our founding fathers intended.

There are so many laws, rules and regulations out there today that nobody can possibly know them all, much less keep them all. Unfortunately, politics tends to keep attracting new crops of control freaks that are eager to impose even more ridiculous laws on all of us.

We have become so tightly controlled and so tightly restrained that there is very little room for any real freedom in America today. Do our politicians even know what they mean when they give speeches about “liberty” and “freedom” anymore? It is almost as if those two words have completely lost their meaning.

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Jan 272011

Any society needs governance.

When I give talks at libertarian seminars, questions about what an ideal society would look like usually come up. The discussions tend to be pretty theoretical because there are few examples, historical or especially contemporary, of, say, communities without government (not that that is necessarily ideal – it’s just what most folks want to talk about). The question I’d like to touch on here is whether, with limited government or even no government at all, politics would become unimportant.

That question actually rarely arises at those seminars. I think most people assume politics begins and ends with government. I’ve been thinking about this ever since a young colleague sent me a documentary film about people who are living “off the grid” on the mesas of New Mexico. (HT Alina Dimofte.) More on that in a moment.

Ayn Rand on Politics

Carl von Clausewitz, the German military theorist, defined politics as “war by other means” because, like war, it is essentially a struggle over who will hold the means of coercion and compulsion. And I believe it was in her novel Atlas Shrugged that Ayn Rand said, speaking through a character: “I am interested in politics so that one day I will not have to be interested in politics.”

I interpret Rand to mean that the need (or at least her need) to engage in political struggle will largely disappear once government is limited to the minimum functions she thought proper. Actually, few would argue with this idea, including market anarchists and maximal-state socialists. They also assume politics will disappear when they achieve their objectives.

Would politics disappear? I don’t think so.

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Nov 192010

Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, traveled to Silicon Valley on Tuesday to meet with top executives of several technology firms about a proposal to make it easier to wiretap Internet users.

Mr. Mueller and the F.B.I.’s general counsel, Valerie Caproni, were scheduled to meet with senior managers of several major companies, including Google and Facebook, according to several people familiar with the discussions. How Mr. Mueller’s proposal was received was not clear.

“I can confirm that F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller is visiting Facebook during his trip to Silicon Valley,” said Andrew Noyes, Facebook’s public policy manager. Michael Kortan, an F.B.I. spokesman, acknowledged the meetings but did not elaborate.

Mr. Mueller wants to expand a 1994 law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, to impose regulations on Internet companies.

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Nov 092010

Part 1: Baby It’s Cold Outside

Part 2: The Phantom Victory

Part 3: The Shadows

Adam Curtis

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Oct 202010

Next month, Californians will vote on Proposition 19, a measure to legalize marijuana. Because no state has ever taken such a step, voters are being subjected to a stream of fear-mongering assertions, unaccompanied by evidence, about what is likely to happen if drug prohibition is repealed.

But it need not — and should not — be that way.

Ten years ago, Portugal became the first Western nation to pass full-scale, nationwide decriminalization. That law, passed Oct. 1, 2000, abolished criminal sanctions for all narcotics — not just marijuana but also “hard drugs” like heroin and cocaine.

This applies only to drugs for personal use; drug trafficking remains a criminal offense. There is now a decade's worth of empirical data on what actually happens — and does not happen — when criminal sanctions against drug possession are lifted.

By any metric, Portugal’s drug-decriminalization scheme has been a resounding success.

Individuals caught with drugs in Portugal are no longer arrested or treated as criminals. Instead, they are sent to a tribunal of health professionals, where they are offered the opportunity, but are not compelled, to seek government-provided treatment.

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Oct 182010

What’s It All About?

Does anyone remember the “cakewalk war” that would last six weeks, cost $50-$60 billion, and be paid for out of Iraqi oil revenues?

Does anyone remember that White House economist Lawrence Lindsey was fired by Dubya because Lindsey estimated that the Iraq war could cost as much as $200 billion?

Lindsey was fired for over-estimating the cost of a war that, according to Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, has cost 15 times more than Lindsey estimated. And the US still has 50,000 troops in Iraq.

Does anyone remember that just prior to the US invasion of Iraq, the US government declared victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Does anyone remember that the reason Dubya gave for invading Iraq was Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, weapons that the US government knew did not exist?

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Sep 232010

The primary cause of homelessness is government regulation in the form of zoning restrictions, building codes, and construction moratoriums, which raise housing prices above what many can pay. (See William Tucker’s “The Excluded Americans: Homelessness and Housing Policies.”) Consequently, is higher in cities that have more of these regulations.

During my years as a landlady to low-income tenants, building inspectors told me to install new kitchen counters a couple of inches longer or to rebuild staircases to increase width by an inch. When I pointed out that these expensive and unnecessary changes would increase rents for the poor who lived there, one inspector replied, “Good. We’ll get these people out of our city.” Other Michigan landlords told me similar stories. We didn’t have homelessness in our small town until the city decided to make annual housing inspections mandatory, and compelled landlords to make such ridiculous changes.

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Sep 172010

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Aug 262010

As the privacy controversy around full-body security scans begins to simmer, it’s worth noting that courthouses and airport security checkpoints aren’t the only places where backscatter x-ray vision is being deployed. The same technology, capable of seeing through clothes and walls, has also been rolling out on U.S. streets.

American Science & Engineering, a company based in Billerica, Massachusetts, has sold U.S. and foreign government agencies more than 500 backscatter x-ray scanners mounted in vans that can be driven past neighboring vehicles to see their contents, Joe Reiss, a vice president of marketing at the company told me in an interview. While the biggest buyer of AS&E’s machines over the last seven years has been the Department of Defense operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Reiss says law enforcement agencies have also deployed the vans to search for vehicle-based bombs in the U.S.

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