Quotulatiousness

August 31, 2017

Words and Numbers: Do Americans still have freedom of speech?

Filed under: Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Apparently, James and Antony have given up the YouTube version of Words and Numbers and reverted to an audio-only version (at least I can still embed the player version):

These days, everybody is nervous about what you can say in public without getting slammed by retribution. But is that a free-speech problem, or does it only become one when the police start showing up? Do we live in a truly tolerant society if voicing an opinion, even if it doesn’t land you in jail, ends up ending your career? Antony and James explore these intricate issues.

August 26, 2017

QotD: The American Constitution

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All things considered, this New Republic piece on Randy Barnett and the libertarian constitutional movement is really pretty good. But I thought this part was revealing:

    Barnett believes the Constitution exists to secure inalienable property and contract rights for individuals. This may sound like a bland and inconsequential opinion, but if widely adopted by our courts and political systems it would prohibit or call into question basic governmental protections — minimum wages, food-safety regulations, child-labor laws — that most of us take for granted. For nearly a century now, a legal counterculture has insisted that the whole New Deal project was a big, unconstitutional error, and Barnett is a big part of that movement today.

If your entire program is called into question by the notion that individuals have property and contract rights, maybe the problem is with your program.

And to the extent that, as believed by many, the Supreme Court’s eventual accommodation to the New Deal was the product of duress in the form of FDR’s court-packing scheme, then isn’t that accommodation, in fact, illegitimate?

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit, 2015-08-31.

August 14, 2017

The NRA as a “domestic security threat”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Kevin Williamson on the recent calls for the National Rifle Association to be viewed in the same way as the KKK, al Queda or ISIS:

Representative Kathleen Rice, a batty New York congressman — and, significantly, a former prosecutor — […] called upon the U.S. government to designate the National Rifle Association and its public faces, including Dana Loesch, “domestic security threats.” This demand comes in response to the NRA’s having shown a recruiting video in which Loesch criticizes sundry progressive bogeymen (the media, Hollywood, etc.) and calls upon like-minded allies to “fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” It was immediately denounced by the usual opportunistic nincompoops as a call to violence and sedition, even a call to overthrow the government.

It is of course no such thing. It’s a dopey bit of cheap PR hackery from an increasingly partisan NRA that has made the lamentable decision to branch out from what it is good at — its enormously successful and historically bipartisan campaign of agitation for gun rights — and go all-in with Trump (a fickle friend of the Second Amendment) and the kulturkampf associated with his movement. None of that adds up to “domestic security threat” or anything like a domestic security threat. The only thing the NRA or Loesch have done violence to is a decent respect for the limitations of metaphor.

“Domestic security threat” is a term without legal meaning, being a conflation of two terms that Democrats like to employ against their critics: “national-security threat” and “domestic terrorists.” That should give us some idea of what Representative Rice would like to see done in response to the “domestic security threat” she imagines. Recent precedent here is not particularly inspiring: The Obama administration assassinated an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, for the grave offense of being “the Osama bin Laden of Facebook,” a phrase that would be hard to say without laughing in a context other than the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen.

Gun owners and gun enthusiasts have been targeted for some time by Democrats, who have insisted, among other things, that the federal government ought to suspend the constitutional rights of people put on a secret blacklist by the federal government with no due process and no course of appeal. Democrats dream of registries, property seizure, and other invasive measures reminiscent of the totalitarian excesses of the 20th century — so long as those tools of tyranny are used on their political enemies.

What are the possible offenses of the NRA? It is an organization that does nothing more aggressive than political organization and political communication. Its efforts are labor-intensive: Contrary to the ignorant assumptions that inform our political discourse, the NRA is a relatively small spender when it comes to campaign donations and lobbying, being at the moment the 460th-largest campaign donor and the 156th-highest-spending lobbyist. The NRA has long excelled at its core mission because it excels at arguing its case in public and at delivering the votes, particularly in tight House races. And it is for this — for ordinary political activism of precisely the sort that the First Amendment exists to protect — that Representative Rice and others seek to have the NRA punished as a criminal organization, or as a terrorist organization. That these authoritarian measures are cheered by people who still call themselves “liberals” suggests a widespread moral and intellectual failure among a significant portion of the American public.

August 11, 2017

Penn & Teller on Gun Control

Filed under: History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 11 Feb 2013

Penn and teller explain the 2nd amendment in very simple, easy to understand terms. Just the way it was written.

July 25, 2017

“‘Legal fiction’ sounds better than ‘lie’, but in this case the two terms are near synonyms”

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The Instapundit Glenn Reynolds in USA Today on US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ passion for civil asset forfeiture:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to steal from you.

Oh, he doesn’t call it that. He calls it “civil forfeiture.” But what it is, is theft by law enforcement. Sessions should be ashamed. If I were president, he’d be fired.

Under “civil forfeiture,” law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. (“Legal fiction” sounds better than “lie,” but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It’s also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny.

As Drug Enforcement Agency agent Sean Waite told the Albuquerque Journal, “We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty. … It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”

“Presumed to be guilty.” Once in America, we had a presumption of innocence. But that was inconvenient to the powers that be.

As Tamara Keel said “Appointing Sessions was the opposite of ‘draining the swamp’; it was basically pumping in a whole bunch of vintage swamp water”

July 12, 2017

Someone at the NRA finally speaks out on the shooting death of Philando Castile

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Radley Balko on the problems the NRA creates for itself by its reflexive support of the police, which weakens its efforts on upholding gun rights for ordinary Americans:

At long last, someone from the National Rifle Association has spoken up about Philando Castile. Sort of. During a CNN segment, NRA spokeswoman and pundit Dana Loesch said this:

    I think it’s absolutely awful. It’s a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided. I don’t agree with every single decision that comes out from courtrooms of America. There are a lot of variables in this particular case, and there were a lot of things that I wish would have been done differently. Do I believe that Philando Castile deserved to lose his life over his [traffic] stop? I absolutely do not. I also think that this is why we have things like NRA Carry Guard, not only to reach out to the citizens to go over what to do during stops like this, but also to work with law enforcement so that they understand what citizens are experiencing when they go through stops like this.

As Jacob Sullum points out at Reason, this is pretty weak stuff. A law-abiding gun owner was shot and killed by a cop after doing everything he was supposed to do. It then took more than a year for anyone from the nation’s largest gun rights organization to comment, and when she did, she offered a vague, heavily qualified, quasi-criticism of the cop while implying not only that Castile contributed to his death but also that he might be alive if only he were carrying an NRA Carry Guard card.

This is about par for the course for the NRA. This is the group that claims to be the only thing preventing the government from obliterating the Second Amendment, yet they’re noticeably quiet about the people doing the most violence to the Second Amendment — the armed, badge-wearing government employees we call law enforcement officers. For all the NRA’s dire warnings about government gun confiscation, the real, tangible threat to gun-owning Americans today comes not from gun-grabbing bureaucrats but from door-bashing law enforcement officers who think they’re at war — who are too often trained to view the people they serve not as citizens with rights but as potential threats. Here, the NRA just doesn’t want to get involved.

[…]

In short, the NRA seems to think we’re at risk of creeping tyranny and abuse of power from all sectors of government except from the men and women armed, badged and entrusted with the power to kill. That’s a problem, because if armed agents who enforce the laws on the ground aren’t required to respect our rights, our rights don’t really exist.

The Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way on the Castle Doctrine for the next 25 years, but if the police continue to kick down doors with impunity, law-abiding gun owners will be at risk, and the Second Amendment will be more of an empty gesture than a constitutional protection. The Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way on conceal carry for the next 25 years, but if the organization keeps pushing the line that cops are at war, that the populace is dangerous, and that every citizen is a possible threat, the right to carry a gun in public will always be constrained by cops conditioned to see every weapon as a threat to their existence.

Finally, the Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way and abolish all the state laws like those that ensnared Shaneen Allen, but as long as the NRA and its allies push rhetoric that makes white people (and white cops) see all crime with a black face, the right to bear arms for people who look like her — or who look like Philando Castile — exist only in theory.

June 12, 2017

“They have gradually moved legislative power out of Congress and into administrative agencies — to be exercised, in more genteel ways, by persons like … themselves”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 16:14

Glenn Reynolds (aka the Instapundit) on the unelected bureaucracies that have taken on more and more executive power over the lives of ordinary American citizens and their businesses:

Watching the ongoing clown show in Washington, Americans can be forgiven for asking themselves, “Why did we give this bunch of clowns so very much power over our nation and our lives?”

Well, don’t feel so bad, voters. Because you didn’t actually give them that much power. They just took it. That’s the thesis of Columbia Law Professor Philip Hamburger’s new book, The Administrative Threat, a short, punchy followup to his magisterial Is Administrative Law Unlawful? Both deal with the extraordinary — and illegitimate — power that administrative agencies have assumed in American life.

Hamburger explains that the prerogative powers once exercised by English kings, until they were circumscribed after a resulting civil war, have now been reinvented and lodged in administrative agencies, even though the United States Constitution was drafted specifically to prevent just such abuses. But today, the laws that actually affect people and businesses are seldom written by Congress; instead they are created by administrative agencies through a process of “informal rulemaking,” a process whose chief virtue is that it’s easy for the rulers to engage in, and hard for the ruled to observe or influence. Non-judicial administrative courts decide cases, and impose penalties, without a jury or an actual judge. And the protections in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (like the requirement for a judge-issued search warrant before a search) are often inapplicable.

As Hamburger writes, “Administrative power also evades many of the Constitution’s procedures, including both its legislative and judicial processes. Administrative power thereby sidesteps most of the Constitution’s procedural freedoms. Administrative power is thus all about the evasion of governance through law, including an evasion of constitutional processes and procedural rights.”

February 12, 2017

QotD: Magna Carta

Filed under: Britain, History, Law, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It’s remarkable that the English-speaking world remembers Magna Carta. The product of a struggle between King John and his barons, it was sealed on the bank of the Thames 800 years ago, on June 15, 1215. But in a sense, the most valuable thing about Magna Carta is precisely that it is remembered. Other charters were issued across medieval Europe, but they were rapidly forgotten.

Magna Carta alone endured because the kings of England never consolidated their power fully enough to be able to ignore their subjects. The charter was a useful political weapon in this struggle against arbitrary royal power, which is why it was so often reissued, appealed to, and celebrated, not least in the United States by the Founding Fathers: The Massachusetts state seal adopted in 1775 includes a patriot holding the Great Charter. To remember is, literally, to recall to mind, to renew in thought, which is why memory, as Orwell recognized in 1984, is a great defense of liberty.

This year, Magna Carta is being acclaimed as the contract that first established the idea that law was above government. As British politician and historian Daniel Hannan has put it, from Magna Carta flowed “all the rights and freedoms that we now take for granted: uncensored newspapers, security of property, equality before the law, habeas corpus, regular elections, sanctity of contract, jury trials.” And that’s fair: The barons wanted to limit King John’s arbitrary power, and without limits there is no liberty under law.

But it does not take very much bravery now to celebrate our rights. Today, the language of rights is universal, though often hypocritical. Worse, the danger to liberty in the U.S. and Britain today is not arbitrary power of the sort exercised by King John, who offered no real theory except that he needed the money he was stealing to fight his wars in France. The danger to liberty today, ironically, comes more from arbitrary power backed up by the rights-talk that can trace its origins back to Magna Carta. Against my right to free expression stands your supposed right not to be offended. My right to property must now pay for your right to free health care. My right not to be discriminated against must give way to your right to be discriminated in favor of.

Ted R. Bromund, “Magna Carta limited government”, National Review, 2015-06-15.

October 13, 2016

QotD: Libertarian constitutionalism

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Libertarian constitutional thought is a distinctly minority position among scholars and jurists, one that at first glance has little connection with either modern Supreme Court jurisprudence or the liberalism that remains dominant in the legal academy. However, libertarian ideas have more in common with mainstream constitutional thought than at first meets the eye. They have also had greater influence on it.

This article explores the connections between mainstream and libertarian constitutional thought in recent decades. On a number of important issues, modern Supreme Court doctrine and liberal constitutional thought has been significantly influenced by pre-New Deal libertarian ideas, even if the influence is often unconscious or unacknowledged. This is particularly true on issues of equal protection doctrine and modern “substantive” due process as it pertains to “noneconomic” rights. Here, both the Supreme Court and much of the mainstream academic left have repudiated early twentieth century Progressivism, which advocated across-the-board judicial deference to legislatures. They have also rejected efforts to eliminate common law and free market “baselines” for constitutional rights.

The gap between libertarian and mainstream constitutional thought is much greater on issues of federalism and property rights. Here too, however, recent decades have seen significant convergence. Over the last thirty years, the Supreme Court has begun to take federalism and property rights more seriously, and the idea that they should get strong judicial protection has attained greater intellectual respectability. Moreover, much of libertarian constitutional thought merely seeks to apply to federalism, property rights, and economic liberties, the same principles that mainstream jurists and legal scholars have applied in other areas, most notably “noneconomic” constitutional rights and separation of powers.

Ilya Somin and David Bernstein, abstract to “The Mainstreaming of Libertarian Constitutionalism” in Law and Contemporary Problems, reposted in the Washington Post, 2015-02-20.

September 14, 2016

The Brothers Gracchi – IV: Enter Gaius – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 27 Aug 2016

Gaius Gracchus took up the mantle of his dead brother, overcoming resistance from the Senate and the elites to win the election for tribune. Although he had a hot temper, he shared his brother’s charisma and talent, so he built a powerful base of popularity by creating programs for the poor, the army, and the middle class.
____________
With Tiberius dead, it fell to his brother Gaius to take up his mantle. Both brothers were talented and charismatic, but Gaius had a much more fiery temper that made the Senate wary. During his political post, as a quaestor assigned to Sardinia, they tried to bind him to his post to prevent him from running in another election. Gaius broke tradition and defied the Senate’s orders, but when they put him on trial, he brought the citizens over to his side and walked away freely. As they had feared, he ran for tribune: the same office his brother had held. Despite heavy opposition from his enemies, he won. Support for him both in and outside Rome had grown so large that people flooded the city just to vote for him. In his first act, he passed a law which applied retroactively to punish Popilius Laena, the man who had banished Tiberius’s supporters after his death. Popilius fled rather than face the law. Over the remainder of his term, Gaius proved extremely active and efficient: he passed new laws and implemented programs to help the poor, the soldiers, and the middle class through measures like the grain dole. At the end of his term, he planned to step down from politics for a while, but there weren’t enough people who won the election for tribune that year so he was reinstated by default. Now he had what his brother had died for: a second term as tribune.

September 8, 2016

The Brothers Gracchi – III: Ochlocracy – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 20 Aug 2016

To protect himself from retaliation for his populist policies, Tiberius Gracchus ran for tribune a second time. On election day, he sought protection from the crowd among rumors that wealthy elites planned to assassinate him, but accidentally sent a message that he wished to be not elected, but crowned as king. A Senator formed an opposing mob that killed Tiberius and 300 of his supporters on the spot.
____________

Tiberius looked to shore his support as many people questioned the way he’d stripped Octavius of office. His chance came when the King of Pergamum died, and left his kingdom and all its land to Rome in his will. Tiberius stepped in to tell the Senate he would draft a bill to deal with this new land and submit it directly to the people. This outraged the Senate: foreign policy had always been their domain, and even those who had been silent during his squabble with Octavius now spoke against Tiberius. Fearing retribution, Tiberius ran for tribune a second time: an unprecedented political act that would make his person sacrosanct. On Election Day, Tiberius received a warning that the wealthy elites of Rome planned to assassinate him and stop his re-election. He tried to indicate to his supporters that his life was in danger, but since they couldn’t hear him above the din, he did so by pointing at his head. One onlooker interpreted this as him asking for a crown, and brought this news to the Senate. They called upon the consul to stop it, but he said he would just nullify the vote if that happened. One Senator did not accept this response. He gathered his own mob to take things into his own hands. They caught Tiberius and killed him, along with 300 of his followers. Many who escaped were later executed or exiled, and Gaius – the brother of Tiberius – was refused when he asked for his brother’s body back to hold funeral rites. It was the first great act of political violence in Rome, and it set the stage for a new age of violent upheaval. After all, harming a tribune was supposed to be not only illegal but a sin before the gods, so if this mob had done just that and escaped without punishment, what other laws could not be broken? Into this troubled stage stepped Gaius Gracchus, already known for his fiery disposition and now determined to take up his dead brother’s cause.

August 30, 2016

The Brothers Gracchi – II: Populares – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 13 Aug 2016

Tiberius Gracchus took up the cause of land reform, determined to restore property rights to the average citizen and curtail the abuses of the rich. But another tribune vetoed his proposed law, so Tiberius began to fight back with his own veto and ground the government to a halt. At last, he held a special vote to remove his opponent from office so that his land reform bill could pass. ____________

Tiberius Gracchus returned from war to find a Rome where soldiers reaped no rewards for their service, and the rich worked all the farmland with slaves who were the spoils of war. Determined to fix this, he took up the cause of land reform. His first goal: to restore the ager publicus, or “public land.” Tradition held that some of the land won in war would always be set aside and distributed to the citizens, with no one allowed to hold more than 500 acres of it, but the rich had ignored that law so long that no one even tried to enforce it. Tiberius got himself electrd as tribune and wrote a law that didn’t punish the rich, just asked them to surrender their illegally held land after the state paid them for it. Nevertheless, the richest of the rich accused him of trying to foment a revolution. They tried and failed to turn the people against Tiberius, but when his law passed anyway, they recruited one of his fellow tribunes to veto the law. Tiberius responded by drafting another, harsher version of the law – only to see this one vetoed also. He began using his own veto in retaliation, refusing to let any other law pass and stopping the senate from withdrawing money from the treasury. Government ground to a halt. Roman government had always relied on the responsible use of powers that were now being abused, and the snowball began to roll downhill. Tiberius took the unprecedented measure of holding a special vote to get his opponent, Octavius, removed from office by popular vote. Despite Octavius’s efforts to hold out, the people voted with Tiberius: Octavius was stripped from office and barely escaped from the Campus Martius with his life after an angry crowd turned on him. But at last, with no more opposition from Octavius, the agrarian reform law proposed by Tiberius Gracchus passed.

August 26, 2016

QotD: France’s “burkini” ban

Filed under: France, Liberty, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

France, like the rest of the liberal West, gets this exactly and lethally wrong. First we forbid individuals their natural right to set the rules within their own property, to exclude and admit who they choose, to demand the burkini or to ban it. Then we set the law on people for the crime of wearing too much cloth on the public beach. A photograph is reproduced worldwide showing three armed male policemen standing over a Muslim woman and making her remove the clothes she considers necessary for modesty. Whatever your opinion of Islam and its clothing taboos, does anyone in the world believe that this makes the next jihadist attack less likely? To call it “security theatre” would be a compliment. The popular entertainment it calls to mind is that of the mob stripping and parading une femme tondue.

Natalie Solent, “Security strip”, Samizdata, 2016-08-24.

August 24, 2016

The Tragedy of the Commons

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 26 Jun 2015

In this video, we take a look at common goods. Common resources are nonexcludable but rival. For instance, no one can be excluded from fishing for tuna, but they are rival — for every tuna caught, there is one less for everyone else. Nonexcludable but rival resources often lead to what we call a “tragedy of the commons.” In the case of tuna, this means the collapse of the fishing stock. Under a tragedy of the commons, a resource is often overused and under-maintained. Why does this happen? And how can we solve this problem? Like we’ve done so many times throughout this course, let’s take a look at the incentives at play. We also discuss Nobel Prize Winner Elinor Ostrom’s contributions to this topic.

June 6, 2016

QotD: What really ended the Great Depression in the United States?

Filed under: Economics, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Great Depression was the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. From 1931 to 1940 unemployment was always in double digits. In April 1939, almost ten years after the crisis began, more than one in five Americans still could not find work.

On the surface, World War II seems to mark the end of the Great Depression. During the war more than 12 million Americans were sent into the military, and a similar number toiled in defense-related jobs. Those war jobs seemingly took care of the 17 million unemployed in 1939. Most historians have therefore cited the massive spending during wartime as the event that ended the Great Depression.

Some economists — especially Robert Higgs […] challenged that conclusion. Let’s be blunt. If the recipe for economic recovery is putting tens of millions of people in defense plants or military marches, then having them make or drop bombs on our enemies overseas, the value of world peace is called into question. In truth, building tanks and feeding soldiers — necessary as it was to winning the war — became a crushing financial burden. We merely traded debt for unemployment. The expense of funding World War II hiked the national debt from $49 billion in 1941 to almost $260 billion in 1945. In other words, the war had only postponed the issue of recovery.

Even President Roosevelt and his New Dealers sensed that war spending was not the ultimate solution; they feared that the Great Depression — with more unemployment than ever — would resume after Hitler and Hirohito surrendered. Yet FDR’s team was blindly wedded to the federal spending that (as I argue in my 2009 book New Deal or Raw Deal?) had perpetuated the Great Depression during the 1930s.

FDR had halted many of his New Deal programs during the war — and he allowed Congress to kill the WPA, the CCC, the NYA, and others — because winning the war came first. In 1944, however, as it became apparent that the Allies would prevail, he and his New Dealers prepared the country for his New Deal revival by promising a second bill of rights. Included in the President’s package of new entitlements was the right to “adequate medical care,” a “decent home,” and a “useful and remunerative job.” These rights (unlike free speech and freedom of religion) imposed obligations on other Americans to pay taxes for eyeglasses, “decent” houses, and “useful” jobs, but FDR believed his second bill of rights was an advance in thinking from what the Founders had conceived.

Burton Folsom, “If FDR’s New Deal Didn’t End the Depression, Then It Was World War II that Did”, The Freeman, 2014-12-26.

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