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Can Opportunism Ever Be Libertarian?

Recently, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that he would be banning any COVID-19 vaccine mandates, “including for private employers.” In response, Mises Institute Senior Fellow Bob Murphy, tweeted “For the record: I think it’s a mistake to applaud government bans on the rules a business can put in place regarding its clientele. All the warnings of slippery slope apply.”

This argument is straightforward and completely logical. Any foundational understanding of libertarianism would tell one that government action is contrary to our goal—especially government action that takes away part of a business’ ability to determine exactly which people it chooses to employ or serve considering what an important part of libertarianism the freedom of association is. Perhaps most important of this argument is Murphy’s last line regarding warnings of slippery slope. If a state can determine how a business may utilize its freedom of association in regard to vaccines, then where does it stop? I have written something in line with this thought process claiming that if the government can determine how a business uses its property, then it is no longer private property but instead what economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe calls “fiat property.” The dangers of giving the state this leeway are countless.

However, this issue is more complicated than we like to make it. As popular libertarian and Part of the Problem host Dave Smith recently tweeted, “If you think that banning discrimination against the unvaccinated is ‘equally oppressive’ as vaccine passports that turn huge swaths of the population into second class citizens then, yes, I think you are divorced from reality.”

I should note that these two comments from these two libertarian thought leaders do not inherently contradict each other nor are they targeting each other in anyway. That being said, they do a fairly good job of representing the two competing arguments regarding this issue. The latter group sees the former as disconnected from reality and missing the point, whereas the former group sees the latter as opportunists. However, these views are not contradictory. Murray Rothbard has already reconciled the gap between pure libertarianism and opportunism in a letter originally written to F.A. Harper and George Resch entitled “Rothbard’s Confidential Memorandum to the Volker Fund, ‘What Is to Be Done?'”

The effective centrist avoids the pitfalls of “opportunism” by keeping the objective firmly in view, and, in particular, by never acting in a manner, or speaking in a manner, inconsistent with the full libertarian position. To be inconsistent in the name of “practicality” is to betray the libertarian position itself, and is worthy of the utmost condemnation.

In the name of practicality, the opportunist not only loses any chance of advancing others toward the ultimate goal, but he himself gradually loses sight of that goal—as happens with any “sellout” of principle.

This is the basis of any argument for libertarian purism. From this alone one could assume that we could not ally with those arguing for Abbott’s position as it is clearly inconsistent with the full libertarian position. However, Rothbard goes on:

Thus, suppose that one is writing about taxation. It is not incumbent on the libertarian to always proclaim his full “anarchist” position in whatever he writes; but it is incumbent upon him in no way to praise taxation or condone it; he should simply leave this perhaps glaring vacuum, and wait for the eager reader to begin to question and perhaps come to you for further enlightenment.

So while one should not speak in a manner betraying the libertarian position, that does not mean that he must never address more nuanced issues. To pretend that banning vaccine passports is simply equal in its threat to libertarianism as a vaccine passport is to ignore major parts of reality. It is not unlibertarian to fight boldly against an evil and recognize that something else can well be less evil, however one must highlight the difference without conceding support for what makes the lesser evil in fact evil. The most important point to remember when facing these issues is Ludwig von Mises’ personal motto: tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito—do not give into evil but proceed ever more boldly against it.

Connor Mortell graduated from Texas Christian University with a major in finance and a minor in Chinese. After graduation, he went on to work as a legislative aide for the Florida House of Representatives for two years. He then returned to school and is currently studying for his Master of Business Administration at Florida State University. Additionally, he is a graduate of Mises University where he passed the Mündliche Prüfung Viva Voce Exam on Economics. He has also contributed multiple pieces to the great Antiwar.com and the Mises Wire. He can be contacted at connormmortell@gmail.com.

Down With Fraudulent ‘Fair’ Trade

The Biden administration is embracing the same flawed “fair trade” mantra that previous administrations used to sanctify protectionist policies. Biden’s team has “largely dispensed with the idea of free trade as a goal in and of itself,” the New York Times reported. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai recently touted the Biden administration’s plans to “shape the rules for fair trade in the 21st century.” What could possibly go wrong from such a lofty aspiration?

Thirty years ago, my book The Fair Trade Fraud was published by St. Martin’s Press. That book was translated into Japanese and Korean, and adapted as a textbook at the University of Chicago, Duke University, American University, University of Texas, and many other colleges. That book exposed fair trade as one of the great intellectual frauds of modern times. It is also a moral delusion that could lead to endless conflicts and an economic catastrophe.

When politicians call for fair trade with foreigners, they use a concept of fairness diametrically opposed to the word’s normal usage. In exchanges between individuals – in contract law – the test of fairness is the voluntary consent of each party to the bargain: “the free will which constitutes fair exchanges,” as Sen. John Taylor wrote in 1822. When politicians speak of unfair trade, they do not mean that buyers and sellers did not voluntarily agree, but that federal officials disapprove of bargains American citizens made. Fair trade means government intervention to direct, control, or restrict trade.

Fair trade often consists of some politician or bureaucrat picking a number out of thin air and forcibly imposing it on foreign businesses and American consumers. Fair trade meant that Jamaica was allowed to sell the U.S. only 970 gallons of ice cream a year, that Mexico could sell Americans only 35,292 bras a year, and that Poland could ship us only 51,752 pounds of barbed wire. Fair trade meant permitting each American citizen to consume the equivalent of only one teaspoon of foreign ice cream per year, two foreign peanuts per year, and one pound of imported cheese per year.

American protectionists have always found moral pretexts to denounce “unfair” imports. In the 1820s, protectionists proclaimed that trade between England and America could not be fair because England was advanced and America was comparatively backward. In the 1870s, protectionists announced that trade between the U.S. and Latin America could not be fair because the U.S. was comparatively rich while Latin American countries were poor. In the 1880s, protectionists warned that trade could not be fair if the interest rate among the trading nations differed by more than two percent. In 1922, Congress effectively defined “unfair competition” as any foreign cost of production advantage that existed for any reason on any product.

Since then, the U.S. definitions of unfair trade have proliferated almost as fast as the number of D.C. trade lawyers. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. government penalized foreign farmers for not paying wages to their wives and children, foreign governments for not coercing foreign companies to buy more American products, and foreign companies for relying on part-time labor, making charitable donations, and failing to charge American customers the highest prices in the world. Federal law currently assumes that foreign competition that prevents American companies from raising their prices unfairly injures them.

The most common foreign “unfair trade practice” is selling a better product at a lower price. Xenophobia is the foundation of U.S. antidumping law. The U.S. Commerce Department sees low-priced imported goods as Trojan Horses, insidiously undermining the American economy. The U.S. government has imposed more dumping penalties against low-priced imports than has any other government in the world.

The dumping law forces foreign companies to run a nearly endless gauntlet of American bureaucrats. Antidumping laws make it a crime for a company to sell the same product for two different prices in two different markets 15,000 miles apart. Dumping did not become a top trade issue until the 20th century, perhaps because our ancestors had not studied enough economics to become paranoid about minor price variations.

“Fair trade” is increasingly a rallying cry of both conservatives and liberals who apparently believe that there is some hidden wisdom buried in the basement of federal agencies. But it is impossible to overstate the folly of some protectionist regimes. In 1816, Congress imposed high tariffs on sugar imports in part to prop up the value of slaves in Louisiana. Sugar producers have been “protected” almost ever since. The sugar program relies on import quotas and other interventions to drive U.S. sugar prices to double or more of the world price, costing consumers $4 billion a year. Since 1997, Washington’s sugar policy has zapped more than 120,000 U.S. jobs in food manufacturing. More than 10 jobs have been lost in manufacturing for every remaining sugar grower in the U.S. American sugar growers will never become competitive unless there is far more global warming than even Swedish teen celebrity Greta Thunberg predicts.

Fair trade dictates intentionally sacrifice some industries to other industries. A 1984 Federal Trade Commission study estimated that steel import quotas cost the U.S. economy $25 for each additional dollar of profit of American steel producers. Restrictions on steel crankshafts imports in 1987 hurt diesel truck engine manufacturers, restrictions on ball bearings imports in 1989 clobbered scores of American industries, and restrictions on computer flat panel displays devastated computer makers in 1991. More recently, Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, along with the foreign retaliation they sparked, destroyed an estimated 300,000 jobs. But the Biden team is perpetuating Trump’s tariffs (which were widely denounced when they were first imposed).

American politicians profiteer on allegations of foreign unfairness. For American trade policy, need is the basis of right, and political campaign contributions are the measure of need. The more foreign unfair practices that politicians claim to discover, the more power they seize over what Americans are allowed to eat, drink, drive, and wear. Each new definition of unfair trade becomes a pretext to further restrict the freedom of American citizens.

The myth of fair trade is that politicians and bureaucrats are fairer than markets—that government coercion and restriction can create a fairer result than voluntary agreement—and that prosperity is best achieved by arbitrary political manipulation, rather than allowing each individual and company to pursue his own interest.

If a foreign nation blockades our ports, it is an act of war. But if American politicians blockade our ports, it is supposedly public service. Protectionism pretends that government can enrich citizens by selectively raising the prices of politically favored items. Protectionists champion the Washington version of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand: Americans automatically benefit from any trade restriction which politicians are bribed to impose.

As soon as a politician or federal bureaucrat accuses foreigners of unfair trade, then any subsequent trade restriction is supposedly self-evidently justified. Protectionists profiteer because most of the Washington press corps is simply “stenographers with amnesia.” Reporters base their trade stories on government press releases and rarely probe beneath the surface of the latest edict. Few journalists take the time to sift through the details of foreign perfidy to recognize how often U.S. government accusations fail the laugh test.

Trade allows consumers everywhere a chance to benefit from increases in productivity anywhere. As Emerson observed, “If a talent is anywhere born into the world, the community of nations is enriched.” Trade binds humanity together in laboring for mutual benefits. The expansion of trade between the end of World War II and the 1980s produced the greatest era of prosperity in world history.

Government cannot make trade more fair by making it less free. It should not be a federal crime to charge low prices to American consumers. The time has come to end the medieval pursuit of a “just price” for imports and to cease allowing government officials to cease boundless economic power over American consumers and business. Unfortunately, fair trade demagoguery will continue as long as politicians are greedy, lobbyists are generous, and journalists are clueless.

This article was originally featured at the American Institute for Economic Research and is republished with permission.

National Review Is a Poisonously Stupid Rag

“If an insufficient patriotism is one of the ills of contemporary America,” declares National Review editor Rich Lowry, “then a national divorce would prescribe arsenic as a cure. It would burn down America to save America, or at least those parts of America it considered salvageable.”

It is precisely here that the anti-secession movement goes wrong, as it has more than once before. In the manner of obtuse historians, they identify the government as the nation itself, and in this case choose the political union over the social fabric. Lowry would sooner see the American tradition perish than accept the dissolution of the federal monstrosity strangling it. Going back to the seventeenth century, American society has been marked by political decentralization, economic liberty, and meaningfully limited government, limited more often by practical constraint than by statute. This has been the tradition of American society, as distinct from the various governments that have attempted to impose on it trade regulations, prohibitions, empires, paternalism, state churches, and grants of monopoly, all with remarkably little success before the twentieth century. It must be admitted that the American character has been, for hundreds of years, quite stubborn against the edicts of London, Washington, and even Richmond.

The distinction between Washington and America is so blithely ignored by National Review that it must be emphasized here. The distinct character of American society (however you choose to characterize it) has far better claim to the name “America” than anything in the imperial city, its laws, fashions, or ambitions. When Washington DC imposed prohibition as a law, was America sober? Not in the least; to call America “dry” because the federal government had declared it so would be an absurdity. And so it is with the general character of Washington today; its nature is so out of step with the general public that a normal citizen may be expected to commit hundreds of crimes against its laws in his lifetime, merely in the course of his normal business, while the democratically elected legislature, for its part, receives consistently negative approval ratings from the very people that selected it. The voters regret the outcome of their votes, while the lawmakers regard the people’s ordinary routines as criminal. Washington and America are not a society, but two in conflict.

And it is this federal government, already so divorced culturally from the American public, and still further alien to the more independent Americans of the past, that Lowry regards as the heart and identity of “America.” For what does secession really rend apart? Does national divorce really mean a separation of Nevada from Arizona, or even New York from Texas? They are practically as separate now as they would be after secession, because they share no political ties outside the federal government itself. The only thing that is being broken is the federal bond; there are no New York laws for Texans to throw off, there are no Texas Rangers patrolling Albany, which the New Yorkers may only expel by seceding from the union. Political secession severs one political tie, and that is to the federal government. The conflict between the hostile states consists entirely in injuries done to one another by way of Washington DC, by having a hand in the election of officials that make and enforce laws to the harm of the other. Simply ending federal jurisdiction ends the low-grade war; both states will have lost both cause and means to injure each other.

Lowry speaks (with appropriate brevity) of the benefits of our federal union, citing free trade within the United States as a major loss if the union were to break up. That the federal government provides free trade in America is a direct falsehood, though it is conceivable that the separate states might be foolish enough to reinstate protectionist interference in trade. The present U.S. is not a free trade zone by any stretch, and the largest single factor in this conspiracy in restraint of trade is federal law. Without going into the full litany of federal agencies and their war on American domestic commerce, including OSHA’s ever-widening grasp to the petty extortion of the ICC, federal regulation alone would make this claim laughable. But the agencies are not alone; the federal income tax devours revenues orders of magnitude beyond anything even the most illiterate state government imposes, crippling virtually every commercial enterprise in this supposed “free trade zone” more severely than the worst abuses of the Lords of Trade upon the colonists. And though this account must be brief, the Federal Reserve, in centrally planning the money supply and the interest rate, intimately interferes with every business that uses the dollar, and inflicts nationwide crashes and inflations that a decentralized system would have a chance to resist. If domestic free trade is of benefit to Americans, that is urgent argument against political union with Washington, not for it.

Lowry goes on to call secession “self-defeating,” in the context of the presidential election. “Let’s say Texas left. That’s 40 electoral votes off the national map for Republicans.” Checkmate, Texas! Is it though? Surely it would be childish for Texans to concern themselves with the election of a president with no power over their lives. Far from self-defeat, they have achieved a much greater and longer-term goal: ensuring they will never be ruled by Clinton or Biden. By giving up the rather mean-spirited ambition of imposing a Trump on others, they have escaped all danger of having their enemies imposed on them. Who loses by this? Well, Trump, Clinton, and Biden would find it unpleasant to have their reach reduced, but every state in (or out of) the union benefits by it. It is once again the interests of Washington versus the interests of America, and quitting on America is unforgivable.

“A disaggregated United States would be instantly less powerful. Indeed, Russia and China would be delighted and presumably believe that we’d deserve to experience the equivalent of the crackup of the Soviet Union or the Qing dynasty, respectively,” Lowry hypothesizes. And indeed they might, just as many in the West delighted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as the liberation of millions crushed under the boot of a too-powerful, too-centralized, imperial state were set free. The more general point, regarding military strength, deserves particular attention because it speaks to the true motivation of much anti-secession sentiment, and is once again, precisely wrong. Lowry (like most neoconservatives) is judging military power in terms of resources directed to the military, not in terms of national security. To clarify, bad strategy is capable of absorbing an unlimited amount of resources; you can spend trillions without making your nation any more secure if you dedicate those trillions to a multi-decade expedition to the other side of the world, as a random example. Washington’s ambitions for a global order have transformed the relatively simple project of defending a nation surrounded by oceans and two benign neighbors into a wild goose chase after global dominance. With the federal government itself failing to produce the strategic vision of a Hadrian, the necessity of limiting the mission may perhaps only be served by limiting the federal government’s power to recruit resources out of the nation.

One way or another, America must defend itself from having its whole life sucked into the service of the wild dreams of the Bushes, Clintons, Cheneys, and McCains. And if this clear strategic necessity is too much to ask of Washington’s personnel then Washington’s personnel must have a reduced hold on America’s resources. Political secession might not be the only solution to our suicidal foreign policy consensus, but it is the consistent federal failure to do what must be done that pushes us ever closer to the necessity of political breakup, to achieve by other means what competent strategic leadership would have done decades ago.

As for the opposing “superpowers” of Russia and China, Lowry alludes to our nuclear arsenal and the difficulty of splitting it up, apparently without noticing that it is mathematically impossible to split 3,800 warheads between two nations, and not have one of them (or both) still be the largest nuclear power in the world. If China is a threat with its 300 warheads, then the U.S. can afford to split into up to twelve nations, every one still better armed than the Chinese. And all this without even invoking the natural mutual-defense impulses of Americans for Americans, whether under the federal yoke or free from it. In the nuclear sphere, secession poses no real threat to a deterrent that was radically overbuilt to begin with, and in the sphere of conventional war Lincoln’s dark prophecy is truer than ever: “All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years.”

While the desire to preserve the centralized military (and the centralized command that squanders it) is the core of the classic resistance to secession, it is another of Lowry’s challenges that truly gets to the heart of the matter. “But if we are going to split up because we can’t even agree on bathroom policies or pronouns, how are we going to agree to divvy up our territory and resources?” Such a question reveals the true issue at stake, and the reason twenty-first century America is widely musing about political breakup. For most Americans throughout history (including many in our own time), the idea of a nationwide “bathroom policy” could only be expressed in the form of a joke. For us to have reached a situation where politics reaches this deeply into what is at once mundane, trivial, and personal speaks to a true insanity in the scope of modern government. “We can’t agree on bathroom policy” is not an admission of disunion, but of idiocy. One might call this condition, where national policy will be satisfied with nothing less than ruling over every toilet in the nation, a pathological unity. Americans are (politically speaking) crowded unnaturally close, worrying about one another’s bathroom as if it were any of their business. In light of the existence of “bathroom policy” it should be obvious that Americans would be seeking some means to return to their traditional political decentralization, and rebuild social harmony by restoring healthy boundaries.

Sam Peters is a contractor and libertarian writer.

Double Standard Drones

On August 29, 2021, the U.S. forces in Afghanistan conducted an airstrike against an ISIS-K leader in Kabul. Tensions had been running high throughout the city, as just several days ago a deadly terrorist attack was carried out that killed over 70 people, including Afghanistan civilians and U.S. service members. A sigh of relief was felt across the country after the strike, bringing the knowledge that we were fighting back against those who were trying to use terrorism as innocent targets. Even though the U.S. was pulling out of Afghanistan, we were still bringing the fight to them!

However, several rather uncomfortable details concerning this strike began to emerge in the following days. As it turns out, the ISIS-K leader was not the only casualty in the strike. There were multiple civilians killed, including several children. Eventually, the civilian casualties were set at 10, including 7 children. This would mean a 10:1 civilian-to-target kill ratio, which is a tragedy in and of itself. However, the revelation was soon made that the ratio was not 10:1, but actually 10:0. There was no ISIS-K leader. The U.S. intelligence was totally incorrect. The drone strike and the civilians murdered were all for nothing.

Rightfully, the Pentagon’s announcement that the strike had been a “tragic mistake” sparked a large degree of outrage. The entire event prompted a flurry of questions: How could this have happened? How could the military have been so mistaken about their target? How do we know that any of the other drone strikes in Afghanistan are as they appear?

Pentagon officials have given press conferences, offered apologies for the situation, and given their deepest remorse about the results of the Kabul drone strike. They had done their best to give off an visible display of regret over the whole debacle. However, dear reader, make no mistake about it: there will be no substantial accountability or reform because of the Pentagon’s murderous mistake. Nobody will be fired. There will be no serious investigation. Nothing will change. The military and the Pentagon bureaucracy are anathema to responsibility in any form, especially when it comes to the civilian casualties of drone strikes.

For ample proof of this fact, one only has to look to the case of Daniel Hale. Just several months ago in July, Hale was sentenced to 45 months in prison. His crime? Acting as a whistleblower for the civilian deaths in drone strikes in Afghanistan. From 2012 to 2013, Daniel Hale served as a signal intelligence officer in an air force base in Afghanistan, where he had intimate knowledge and experience with the drone programs in operation there. Horrified by the senseless killing of innocent Afghanis that he saw during his service time, he took classified documents concerning the details of the drone program and presented them to Jeremy Scahill in 2013. These papers would become the foundation for the Drone Papers, a full expose on the usage of drones overseas published at The Intercept.

What Daniel Hale helped to expose was that drone strikes made on faulty information that killed innocent people were not a rarity, but a tragically common occurrence. Strikes like the one carried out on that August day in Kabul were not an exception, but the rule. The Drone Papers detailed one five-month drone campaign in Afghanistan where nine of out ten casualties in strikes were not the intended target. In other words, 90% of those killed were bystanders who had done nothing wrong. They were just the wrong place at a very wrong time.

For this offence, Daniel Hale was sent to prison. What crime was he guilty of? What transgression had he committed? Contrary to what Pentagon officials may try to tell you, Hale’s revelations didn’t put any US service members in danger. This is the knee-jerk reaction from the military brass to any unwanted whistleblowers, but there is never any evidence of examples offered for how this is the case. Even if it were true, the blame wouldn’t lie with Hale for revealing the crimes of the drone wars, but with those who conducted them in the first place! The danger that may come with revealing a crime does not implicate that whistleblower, but the criminal.

In his own words, the only thing that Daniel Hale did wrong is that “stole something that was never mine to take — precious human life. I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretend things weren’t happening that were. Please, your honor, forgive me for taking papers instead of human lives.”

The August 29th strike and the sentencing of Daniel Hale are jointly indicative of a simple truth: there are two sets of rules. One for the people at the top, and one for everyone else. If you try to take the lives of innocent human beings, you will rightfully be punished. You can’t cover it up or hide it to escape responsibility. But those are the rules for everyone else. If you happen to be one of those on the top, murder can be easily forgiven and forgotten. No matter how badly you screw up and no matter how many people you hurt and lives you end, you won’t ever have to face consequences for your actions. If anyone tries to hold you accountable for your crimes, you can always lock them up just like they did to Daniel Hale.

There are two sets of rules. Two very different sets of rules.

This article was originally featured at J. W. Rich’s blog and is republished with permission.

Foreign Actors Behind the Revolutionary Curtain

Libertarians are quick to support revolutions, especially the American Revolution, as popular uprisings against a tyrannical regime. It is a narrative that allows one to believe that certain political movements are on the “right side of history.” They are often rare and can be appropriate responses to improper behavior by the state, but make no mistake, revolutions are not “popular.”

Revolutions do not just occur anytime a state behaves in a tyrannical or authoritarian way towards its populace. If this was the case, revolts would be happening essentially every day. Plenty of authoritarian regimes exist today and continually exploit and oppress their people with policies that can only be described as tyrannical.

To use a modern example, let’s look at the Philippines and the Duterte regime. The government has launched a “War on Drugs” that outshines the United States in its brutality and expansion of state power that includes death squads who execute those in violation of drug laws and the falsification of evidence. Yet no violent revolution on the part of the people has happened against the regime. Rodrigo Duerete has continued to receive popular support with an astounding 91% approval rating, something most western liberal democratic leaders can only dream of.

How is it that authoritarian leaders remain so popular despite their draconian policies? Why would the people continue to obey such a regime? It is not as if they see the desired ends that the leaders promise. In the case of Duerete, the enforcement measures have failed and seen a decrease in rehabilitation and insignificant decreases in drug usages.

The reason that such a regime stays in power is indicative of the problem of revolution and the lack of a deciding factor in whether one is successful or happens at all. Foreign powers create revolutions through the funding, arming, and/or direct military support of anti-government forces.

This can be demonstrated using the first example that began the post-Enlightenment Age of Revolution, the American Revolution. While there is much to be thankful for in the American Revolution, it is an undeniable reality that it would not have been possible without the aid of foreign governments, specifically the French.

At no point did the American Revolutionary even get a popular mandate, with peak support for the revolutionaries being around 45% at the end of the war. More so, at least a third of colonists were supporters and/or fighting for the British. This caused the revolutionary forces to lack manpower and financial support that would make them a match for the British Empire, one of the most powerful states in history, especially in an age of warfare that was mostly a numbers game.

This led to the need for foreign support and the French were more than happy to oblige. The French were integral in supplying and providing troops to the American Revolutionary efforts and even were critical in the success of several major victories. A lack of French support would have meant suppression and/or compromise of the revolutionaries to keep the American colonies under the rule of the British.

The French benefited and wanted to assist an American victory as a way of hurting the British’s power and influence after suffering the loss to their own in the French and Indian War that preceded the American Revolution and in many ways was the cause of it.

It was effective to some degree until the British retaliated, setting the precedent for the use of revolution by foreign actors as a tool for weakening enemy states. In this case their response was the French Revolution, a reaction to France’s attempt to enable a revolution within Britain itself.

This laid the groundwork for the Age of Revolutions, which could accurately be described as various colonial powers inspiring revolts in their adversaries’ colonies. While the era is marked by historians as a phenomenon that lasted between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, it would give way to a period whose heart was a metaphorical chess game of revolutions between two powers who were ironically created through foreign-funded revolutions themselves.

I’m referring to the Cold War, a “War of Revolutions,” fought by two revolutionary states, the United States and the Soviet Union, whose latter revolution was empowered by Kaiser Wilhelm II to hurt the Allies in World War I. From the Korean War to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, you will see either the United States or USSR behind the scenes in the success or failure of revolutionary efforts against regimes, independent of the popularity of the revolution, a factor which was in constant flux in the many countries experiencing them.

Let’s use Iran as an example, unique in both process and outcome. Iran had two different revolutions, the first being a CIA-backed coup against a Soviet-friendly government and the second being a mixture of a Soviet-backed group and varous American-backed groups which attempted to co-opt the movement against the originally American-installed monarch. In the end a government that was neither pro-Soviet nor pro-American rose to the top, harming the influence of both powers to this very day.

The tradition of revolutionary forces being a tool of foreign powers to hurt enemy states defined the warfare of the Cold War and continues in the American foreign policy of the twenty-first century. Afghanistan today emulates the Afghanistan of the Cold War as it relates to the critical role foreign powers play in the success of revolutions.

Revolutions are not a tool of liberty or the popular will of native people, but a tool of foreign governments to establish power and diminish an enemy state’s power. Revolutions are more beneficial and usable as a foreign policy tactic rather than a domestic one. Any revolutionary efforts in modern America would necessitate a reliance on America’s foreign adversaries to aid and abet the endeavor, none of which are friendly to liberty or libertarian ideas.

Report: Nashville’s ‘Kids for Cash’ Sentencing Scheme

In 2008, a case of two judges from Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania—Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella—shocked the country when these insidious human beings were convicted of accepting money in return for imposing harsh adjudications on juveniles to increase occupancy at for-profit detention centers. The scam was known as “kids for cash” and it exposed the harsh reality of the school to prison pipeline. This egregious practice led to reforms which many thought would prevent such atrocities in the future but as a new report out of Nashville, Tennessee proves, that was not the case.

According to a damning report from ProPublica, a county was exposed for illegally locking up children, and in some instances, using lies to justify it. Some of these children who were locked in cages were as young as seven.

Like the instance in Wilkes-Barre, a county juvenile judge, Donna Scott Davenport, played a key role in this horrifying practice—so did the cops.

According to the report, Davenport, a self-described Christian who referred to herself as the “mother of the county,” took an exceedingly harsh stance on children who got in trouble and even ones who didn’t.

Case in point: In 2016, police responded to an alleged fight at Hobgood elementary school in Murfreesboro between a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old. Though this was hardly an incident for which police and the court system needed to be involved, for some reason, the school called for them.

When police showed up, the the 5 and 6 year old kids were handcuffed and arrested. But that’s just the beginning. Zacchaeus Crawford also got a call that day from police telling him that his three children, ages 9, 10 and 11 were also arrested at the school, along with an 8-year-old and a 13-year-old.

All seven of these children were handcuffed and brought to jail. For allegedly watching the fight between two kids—not participating in it at all—the other five children were charged with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another”—a crime that does not exist in Tennessee law.

“It makes me want to fight. I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t,” Crawford said of his children’s arrests. “How would you feel if it was your child? I’m frustrated.”

A year later, he and his wife sued and won an $86,500 settlement.

“All plaintiff children suffered great mental anguish and emotional trauma as a result of the false arrest and malicious prosecution as instigated and directed by defendants,” the lawsuit filed Feb. 16, 2017 stated.

Despite paying the settlement, the only person involved in the illegal arrest and detention of the children was a single cop, who was suspended for just three days.

Instead of decrying the incident, Judge Davenport issued a statement about children being bad. “We are in a crisis with our children in Rutherford County. I’ve been in officer 17 and a half years and I’ve never seen it this bad,” she told News 4 Nashville at the time.

Indeed, Davenport has a disdain for children like no other. According to the ProPublica report, nearly half of all children who go through her court, 48%—go to jail! That number is nearly ten times higher than the state average which is just 5% of children.

According to a report in Forbes, judge Davenport holds immense power over the local juvenile justice system, appointing all magistrates and approving policies for the detention center, thereby enabling this process even further.

ProPublica points out that Davenport is an apparent braggadocio about her record of jailing kids and keeps a high profile outside of the courtroom. She appears on a monthly segment on a local radio station, in which she has claimed children are behaving far worse now than they have in the past—on multiple occasions over several years.

“It’s worse now than I’ve ever seen it,” she said in 2012. Parents don’t parent: “It’s just the worst I’ve ever seen,” she said in 2017.

Davenport says she believes she’s on “God’s mission” to discipline children in the community, according to ProPublica.

“I’ve locked up one 7-year-old in 13 years, and that was a heartbreak,” she said in 2012. “But 8- and 9-year-olds, and older, are very common now,” she said.

Like the case in Wilkes-Barre, the juvenile detention facility acts as a profit center for locking up kids, receiving $175 of taxpayer money per day, per kid.

“Being detained in our facilities is not a picnic at all. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a consequence for an action,” Davenport said on a recent radio segment. But she conveniently leaves out the fact that it’s a windfall scenario for those involved in the incarceration of the children.

Naturally, ProPublica’s report sparked heavy backlash against the system, but it’s led to no arrests or resignations and Davenport refused to even respond.

This is the current state of the “child justice system” in the land of the free.

This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.

To Keep and Bear Arms: Sometimes a Duty, Ever a Right

On November 3, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. The case will decide whether the Second Amendment’s right to “bear arms” is an actual right. Or conversely, if law-abiding adults who pass a biometric background check and safety training course can be denied a concealed carry permit simply because officials choose to only issue concealed carry permits when they feel that the applicant has a special need.

This case, along with another case Young v Hawaii, are both on the docket for the Court’s fall term. It is important that Second Amendment advocates be aware of these cases as they develop because the Biden administration continues to make unreasonable demands to the Court in how they should handle this case. The solicitor general has at various times filed motion to vacate, more recently filing an Amicus brief that essentially makes the argument that you have no Second Amendment right whatsoever outside the home for any reason. And yesterday the solicitor general filed a motion for leave with the Court, requesting the Court make the federal government a party to this case and have requested time during oral arguments for them to argue the case in-person. Unsurprisingly, the appellant is opposed to what would be an incredibly uneven distribution of time, seeing as how the respondent and the solicitor general would both be making separate oral arguments where they both intend to say pretty much the same thing; allowing a state & federal gun grabber double team to argue against the appellant.

It’s also important to keep in mind that Joe Biden has been pretty consistent when asked about plans to pack the Court; that he has not reached any final conclusion yet, but that the Court would essentially make the choice for him on two specific issues: abortion and gun rights. For him a red line (or in this case a red flag, perhaps) is any ruling that is seen as favorable to the Second Amendment community or the pro-life movement. He seems to have taken the modern myth of the “switch in time” to a whole new level. The “Switch In Time” relies on the incorrect assumption that the way President Franklin Roosevelt was able to get the Supreme Court to stop striking down his unconstitutional New Deal programs was through his threat to pack it with new justices (read: sycophants). In the 1937 case of West Coast Hotel v Parrish, the Court upheld a minimum wage law for women not based on FDR’s political pressure, but on the merits of the case.

Biden has beaten FDR at his own game for having the audacity to go beyond vague threats to very particularized demands that resemble an extortion racket.

It’s also worth noting that conservatives feel much more secure than they probably should in a belief that Donald Trump’s appointments have shifted the Court to a 6-3 split between conservatives and liberals. There are several compelling reasons to doubt that.

Generally, it’s worth noting a trend in the Court that when liberal presidents get elected they tend to appoint liberal justices and the Court shifts in a liberal direction. When conservative presidents get elected they tend to appoint conservative justices and the Court still shifts in a liberal direction.

In regards to the new Roberts Court, we do not have a 6-3 conservative court. We have what constitutional lawyer Josh Blackman has identified as a 3-3-3 Court.

Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch are on the right. John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett are somewhere to the left of the right. And Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan will do anything to form a majority. The chief justice may have been conservative at one point, but he has embarked on a life-long odyssey to pilot the Court to middling moderation. Justice Kavanaugh was always cut from the same cloth as Chief Justice Roberts. He played the part to get the job, but has consistently showed his true colors. And Justice Barrett is not who conservative voters thought they were getting.

Finally, as a matter of common sense, no one should ever be optimistic at the prospect of reclaiming true individual liberty by asking the federal government to limit the power of the federal government.

Whichever way this case goes, it will almost certainly become a landmark Second Amendment case, right up there with DC v Heller (2008) and McDonald v Chicago (2010).

So what is the case all about and what precisely makes it so important?

The law at issue in the case New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett is similar to gun-control measures in other states. To receive an unrestricted license to carry a concealed firearm outside the home, a person must show “proper cause”—meaning a special need for self-protection. They do not issue permits for the general purpose of lawful self-defense. Gun rights advocates often point out that even under ideal circumstances where you can call the police to protect you from an imminent threat and every second matters, the police are at least minutes away. An unarmed individual facing an imminent existential threat rarely has the several minutes of relative security needed to call the police and for them to arrive. That’s if they come at all, which they are not obligated to do. How can the state of New York expect someone facing an imminent existential threat to fill out a permit to carry application explaining the imminent threat to your life which refers to a guy who’s cornered you in an alley, put a knife to your throat, and is demanding your wallet.

Two men challenged the law after New York rejected their concealed-carry applications, and they are backed by a gun-rights advocacy group. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the law, prompting the challengers to appeal to the Supreme Court.

After considering the case at three conferences, the justices agreed to weigh in. They instructed the parties to brief a slightly narrower question than the challengers had asked them to decide, limiting the issue to whether the state’s denial of the individuals’ applications to carry a gun outside the home for self-defense violated the Second Amendment. (We will return to the importance of the limited question presented later). But Prima Facie, this case nonetheless has the potential to be a landmark ruling.

The announcement came just one day short of one year after the Court’s ruling in a different challenge brought by the same gun-rights group. That case involved New York City’s ban on the transport of licensed handguns outside the city. Because the city had repealed the ban before the case reached the Supreme Court, a majority of the Court agreed with the city that the challengers’ original claims were moot—that is, no longer a live controversy. In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh agreed that the case should return to the lower court, but he also indicated that he shared the concern—expressed by Justice Samuel Alito in his dissenting opinion—that the lower courts “may not be properly applying” the Supreme Court’s most recent gun-rights rulings, District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago. Therefore, Kavanaugh urged the Court to “address that issue soon, perhaps in one of the several Second Amendment cases with petitions for certiorari” then pending before the justices, several of which involved the right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense.

Shortly after issuing that decision, the Court distributed for consideration at its May 1, 2020, conference ten gun rights cases that they had put on hold while the New York City case was pending. The justices considered those cases at six consecutive conferences before finally denying review of all ten in June.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the Court’s decision not to take up at least one of the ten cases. In an opinion that was joined in part by Kavanaugh, Thomas argued that the Supreme Court would likely grant review if a law required someone to show a good reason before exercising her right to free speech or to seek an abortion. However, Thomas continued, the Supreme Court had opted to “simply look[] the other way” when “faced with a petition challenging just such a restriction on citizens’ Second Amendment rights.”

There is no way to know why the justices turned down the petitions for review last year. Commentators speculated that some conservative justices may not have been confident that Chief Justice John Roberts would provide a fifth vote to expand gun rights. However, since then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was replaced by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whose vote as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit suggests that she might take a broader approach to the Second Amendment.

In cases before the United States Supreme Court, the Court certifies questions presented to the Court on which arguments must be centered. In this case, the court has accepted the following question to resolve:

QUESTION PRESENTED:

New York prohibits its ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying a handgun outside the home without a license, and it denies licenses to every citizen who fails to convince the state that he or she has “proper cause” to carry a firearm. In District of Columbia v. Heller, this Court held that the Second Amendment protects “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” 554 U.S. 570, 592 (2008), and in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Court held that this right “is fully applicable to the States,” 561 U.S. 742, 750 (2010). For more than a decade since then, numerous courts of appeals have squarely divided on this critical question: whether the Second Amendment allows the government to deprive ordinary law-abiding citizens of the right to possess and carry a handgun outside the home. This circuit split is open and acknowledged, and it is squarely presented by this petition, in which the Second Circuit affirmed the constitutionality of a New York regime that prohibits law-abiding individuals from carrying a handgun unless they first demonstrate some form of “proper cause” that distinguishes them from the body of “the people” protected by the Second Amendment. The time has come for this Court to resolve this critical constitutional impasse and reaffirm the citizens’ fundamental right to carry a handgun for self-defense.

The question presented is: Whether the Second Amendment allows the government to prohibit ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns outside the home for self-defense.

GRANTED LIMITED TO THE FOLLOWING QUESTION:

Whether the State’s denial of petitioners applications for concealed carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.

It’s looking like 2021 with be a pivotal year for Second Amendment jurisprudence. Which direction it pivots is unclear. It may be every bit as important to the individual right to carry arms outside the home for the purpose of self-defense as Heller was in determining that the Second Amendment was an individual right for the purposes of self-defense in the home. It may render the Second Amendment a dead letter once and for all. Or it’s entirely possible the Court does what it has been doing for over a decade and chooses to punt the case, assuring us that eventually they may get around to dealing with the fact that the lower courts have been intentionally misapplying the Second Amendment by citing the Court’s Heller decision and reading in provisos that don’t actually exist.

And should the court choose protection or a punt, we may see an act of vengeance on behalf of the White House for the Court’ decision that the true meaning of the Second Amendment is the one conferred by its drafters and ratifiers, as opposed to the groundless and ahistorical meaning of the amendment according to Joe Biden.

Texas Is Not Free: A Case of Civil Asset Forfeiture

On May 14, 2019, Ameal Woods drove from rural Mississippi to Houston with $42,300 in cash. He was ready to achieve a major goal he and his wife had worked, saved and borrowed for: Purchasing a second semi truck for the fledgling trucking business he operated with his brother, and perhaps a trailer, too.

Along Interstate 10 in Texas, however, his entrepreneurial dream turned into a nightmare. It started when Woods was pulled over by a Harris County sheriff’s deputy who claimed Woods had been following too closely behind the truck in front of him.

The deputy asked Woods if he was carrying drugs or money. Seeking to be cooperative, Woods said he was carrying cash in the trunk and consented to a search of his vehicle.

The deputy proceeded to the trunk, took the money, handed Woods a receipt, and sent him on his way without charging him with anything.

“All my cash. All my life savings. All my dreams. He got it,” says Woods in an Institute for Justice video profile embedded at the end of this article.

Woods had become a victim of civil asset forfeiture, a controversial practice that authorizes police to seize money, cars, trucks, houses or anything else they merely accuse of having a link to criminal activity—regardless of whether the property owner is charged with a crime.

Woods says all his money was legally acquired: $22,800 from his own savings, $13,000 borrowed from his niece and another $6,500 lent to him by his wife, Jordan Davis.

Davis says she’d worked overtime shifts in her job as a restaurant cashier to help accumulate the money Woods needed to pursue his business goals.

“I worked hard for that money,” says Davis. “There were days that I didn’t even want to go to work because I’m tired, and to just have it taken, with no explanation is terrible. How do you start over?”

It was an even more devastating blow for Woods: “All of my drive, all of my motivation, everything was gone.” He went into a deep depression. Rather than expanding his business, he’s been reduced to doing odd jobs.

Civil Asset Forfeiture Puts Property on Trial

Violating the American justice system’s cornerstone presumption of innocence, those whose property has been taken via civil asset forfeiture must prove their property wasn’t involved in a crime—or lose it forever.

In a real sense, the property itself is on trial. That’s reflected in the bizarre case names associated with civil asset forfeiture proceedings, such as “Nebraska v. One 1970 2-Door Sedan Rambler (Gremlin).”

That particular case illustrates that, even where a crime is charged, civil asset forfeiture can still be the instrument of terrible injustice: Police seized the Gremlin after arresting its owner for mere marijuana possession, saying it had been used to “transport” marijuana. The seizure was upheld by the state supreme court.

Property is regularly taken from third-party owners too. For example, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office has pursued the forfeitures of houses simply because a child living in the home had been caught selling drugs.

One calculation puts the median value of forfeited property at $1,276. Many victims of civil asset forfeiture, weighing the time and expense of challenging the seizure against the uncertainty of victory, simply surrender to the government—a dynamic that only encourages police to keep on taking people’s property without charges.

Woods, however, isn’t backing down. Thanks to the Institute for Justice—which calls itself “the national law firm for liberty”—Woods and his wife are now lead plaintiffs in a class action suit against Harris County, a suit that claims the county’s confiscations from him and others violate the Texas constitution’s prohibitions against unreasonable seizures.

News Flash: Law-Abiding People Carry Cash

According to the police affidavit, Woods’ money was presumed to be connected to “illegal activity” because:

  • It was a large amount
  • The money was vacuum-packaged and wrapped in tape
  • Woods appeared nervous
  • Some of the money belonged to someone else: his wife, Jordan Davis
  • Sometime after the seizure, a police dog allegedly alerted to the presence of narcotics (more on this later)

For most people, the idea of holding and carrying tens of thousands of dollars in cash for legal, everyday purposes is simultaneously unnerving and inconceivable.

However, according to a 2019 FDIC survey, 7.1 million American households are “unbanked,” meaning no member of the household has a checking or savings account. The proportion of unbanked households is higher among black, Hispanic, American Indian, lower-income and less-educated households.

Woods, who grew up and still lives in rural Mississippi, says his father didn’t trust banks. Long ago, he told his son he’d attempted to withdraw his money from a bank, only to have the employees pretend he had no account. Woods was taught from a young age to keep his money close, and he made it a practice to cash any checks he received.

When it came time to go shopping for a semi truck and trailer, Woods viewed cash as a plus, believing it drives better deals when negotiating with owner-operators and shipping businesses looking to offload secondhand tractors and trailers.

As for Harris County’s claimed alarm over the fact that the money was wrapped in plastic, Woods says he’s long vacuum-bundled his savings to protect it from the elements and to facilitate hiding it around his property.

His system worked—he says a home burglary a few years ago left his cash stash intact. If only he knew in May 2019 what he knows now: In addition to burglars, we should all keep our cash hidden from the police too.

In Harris County, Plunder with a Pattern

As with laws in many other states, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure §59.06(c) creates a sinister profit motive, authorizing police departments, prosecutors and municipal, county and state governments to keep seized property and use it for their own purposes.

According to the petition in the class action suit, civil asset forfeitures added $7.7 million to Harris County’s law enforcement salary and overtime budgets between 2018 and 2020.

Even more troubling than that steep, self-serving tally are two patterns seen in the seizures.

Remember how the Harris County Sheriff’s Office claimed that a dog alerted for the presence of illegal drugs after officers had already seized Woods’ money? The Institute for Justice found 92 other cases where the alleged dog alert came after the seizure.

Drug-sniffing dogs are deeply problematic under any circumstances—various studies have pegged the false-alert rate at 66 to 80% or more. Their use is even more dubious where property is being seized without charges filed, as the unverifiable claim of a dog’s reaction merely serves to pad a vague accusation that cash or other property is connected to illegal activity.

Of course, within a system that empowers deputies to enlarge their own overtime fund, we can’t ignore the possibility that an enthusiastic dog-handler influenced or over-interpreted the dog’s behavior—or that the handler or someone else made it up entirely.

A second pattern emerges from the Institute for Justice’s scrutiny of Harris County seizures: As with the Ameal Woods case, every one of Harris County’s 113 civil-forfeiture petitions filed since 2016 was based on an affidavit signed by an officer who wasn’t at the scene. Eighty of them were signed by the same person.

Between that and the fact that the affidavits use copy-and-paste, nearly identical language, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office has seemingly built a civil asset forfeiture assembly line, one that’s focused on relentlessly padding the agency’s budget by seizing property from the public it purportedly exists to serve.

Those who do try to contest Harris County seizures face long waits for justice. Woods’ $41,680 was seized in May 2019, but the agency’s procedural sloth meant he had to wait until this fall—two years and four months—for his case to actually start.

A Nationwide Scourge

This article uses Harris County to illustrate civil asset forfeiture, but it’s important to realize the practice exists in various forms throughout most of the United States, and everywhere federal agencies are present. Only a small handful of states have abolished it entirely.

In 2018 alone, 42 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Justice and Treasury departments took in over $3 billion in forfeitures. Buried in those billions are many more agonizing personal experiences like that of Ameal Woods.

Though some states offer better protections for property rights than others, “federal equitable sharing” creates a loophole: State and local police can team up with federal officers to seize property under federal law and pocket up to 80% of the haul, with no regard to what state law says. (You can learn about your state’s forfeiture policy in this Institute for Justice report; state profiles start on page 59.)

The class action suit against Harris County is one of several active cases against civil asset forfeiture being pursued by the Institute for Justice. Davis says his participation isn’t just for him: “I’m fighting for myself. I’m fighting for others. I’m fighting for everybody it happened to in the past. I’m fighting for my dream. Cash is not a crime. For no one.”

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

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