Monday, August 28, 2006

The Problem of Military Power

A commenter called stylerm over at asked the question: what is the Libertarian position on pre-emptive strikes? As I typed an answer, it got entirely too large for a comment. What I would have posted follows below:

Depends on who you talk to. Some libertarians feel that matters of national defense are one of the few legitimate functions of government. Others believe the private sector could solve even that problem. I fall somewhere in between, though as to pre-emptive strikes, I think we all agree they should not be done.

As to military policy, I am fanatically opposed to the maintenance of a peacetime federal military, possibly, though not necessarily, excluding a naval force adequate to suppress piracy. I believe our latent military capacity ought to be maintained by state-controlled (that's "state" in the US sense, not the classical sense) organizations and private organizations and individuals--militias, essentially. I believe that, in the event of an attack, these groups could be tapped for early defensive power, with the federal government able to build a professional military for use in the war in question. Once peace is concluded, the military should be disbanded completely. This would have a number of advantages.

For one, it would make the continual efforts of various government officials to "reform," "modernize," or otherwise update the military unnecessary. There would be no struggle against an entrenched officer corps because there would be no entrenched officer corps. Each and every war would be approached with a military organization specially formed for the fighting of that particular conflict. There would be no piles upon piles of legacy hardware to painstakingly replace, there would be no outdated tactical dogma to fight against, and there would be no entrenched interest groups. In the event of an unavoidable war, there would be, instead, a great variety of models to draw from, both domestic and foreign.

The other advantage, and the most attractive one to me, would be the fact that, in such a scenario, it would be nearly impossible for political leaders at the federal level to plunge the country into an avoidable war. Every diplomatic problem would be approached by the executive branch with the idea that the President does not have a military to draw on in the event that a foreign representative or people are unnecessarily insulted. There would be no attempts to coerce foreign governments into signing lopsided agreements with the tacit threat of military intervention (or withdrawal of military support), because they would have neither to offer. The most sensible path for our diplomatic corps would be a genuine path of neutrality.

It was just such a country that "saved Europe's ass back in World War 2." I fear that, in this era, it is our own country from which the world will need to be saved...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bill Lockyer

My most recent project is an intensive research program covering ALL cantidates for office I will have the opportunity to vote for this November, as well as the start of an ongoing effort to monitor the (recorded) activities of elected officials. I subscrubed to Google Alerts for every person currently serving in an elected office I can vote for, as well as every cantidate for the upcoming election. Today, I am going to tell you a bit about my findings for Bill Lockyer.

First off, Bill Lockyer is a lawyer. He currently serves as Attorney General. Now he's running for Treasurer? Now, maybe I don't know how these things work, but wouldn't it be better to have--oh, I don't know--a accountant or an economist or something for such an office? (For the record Marian V Smithson, Libertarian, is a CPA currently serving as treasurer for a city government, and Claude Parrish, Republican, has a degree in accounting.)

And now, the news.

The Good

Bill Lockyer is in favor of legal fee reimbursement for the attorney general's office. I don't know if this means he's generally in favor of reimbursement for losers in civil cases, but if it does, that's a good thing.

The Middle

Bill Lockyer is against the Supreme Court ruling in regards to medical marajuanna. I consider this "middle" because, as important as I find the actual issue to be, I am ambivalant about the court ruling. Because, when it comes right down to it, the court ruling was "constitutional," assuming having anti-drug laws on the book is constitutional in any way, shape, or form (it isn't). The only truly "constitutional" ruling would have been to slice our drug regime back, at the very list, to covering only drugs shipped across state borders. Where, exactly, the federal government derives its authority to criminalize production of a plant that is often grown, processed, and consumed in the space of a single lot, let alone a single state, I don't know.

But assuming the drug laws are constitutional, this ruling was the right ruling.

The Bad

Bill Lockyer is convinced, despite all evidence to the contrary, that current gas prices are due to gouging. An investigation by the California Energy Commission has found that there was no price gouging; the recent increases in prices are purely economic, and the higher rates for California gas are due to scarcity in specific compounds requred by law for California, but not for other states. Never mind the turmoil in the largest oil-producing countries in the world, or the fact that there hasn't been a new refining plant built since the seventies (if not earlier). It has GOT to be gouging that is driving our prices up, says Lockyer.
"I think the report essentially provides a lot of excuses why oil company prices ran up," Lockyer said. "They aren't excuses that make any sense to me."
Well, of course they don't. He's a complete ignoramus when it comes to economics, or, at least, he plays one on TV for the benefit of other economic ignoramuses.

Bill Lockyer wrote the first ever Thought Crime law in the United Staes--euphemistically referred to as Hate Crim legislation. As far as I'm concerned, theft is theft, murder is murder, vandilism is vandalism, assault is assault. The motivation for said crime shouldn't be an issue, except of course for the usual purpose. It is enough that being on the record as a hater provides one with a continually filled "motivation" slot to be used in any criminal trial. I believe prosecuting people for hateful thoughts is a dangerously slippery slope.

In other words, unless Google digs up something better about Mr. Lockyer, I won't be voting for him.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

1984 and the Culture of Today (Part 1)

I recently started reading 1984. I've been meaning to read it for years, and have fairly recently discovered that most culturally important older works can be read for free on the internet; the copyright has long since expired. I'll be commenting on various things as I go along.

The thing that struck me in the first chapter is the "movies" party members are expected to watch. This one in particular involved a military force destroying refugees in the Mediterranean. the viewers laughed at the whole thing, and particularly enjoyed the sight of a fat man wallowing in the mire, to be blown apart by bombs.

It reminded me of a form of entertainment I've seen people enjoy. I haven't hung around such people in a long time, so I don't know if it's just pre-teen boys who are like this, but I have often watched boys laughing at depictions of human suffering and death. Some guy gets blown up, some guy gets his head chopped off, and it's the funniest thing in the world.

I remember watching kids play games like Doom. I understood the fun of playing the game with the safeties off... The challenge of survival is always fun. But these people would turn "god mode" on and just watch blood and gore splatter on their screen. There was no challenge, no game, just watching things die, and, as the games got more graphically sophisticated, watching things like limbs going flying, blood splattering. etc.

I'm hardly innocent here. I remember well playing Lemmings and laughing my ass off after hitting the "nuke" button, hearing hundreds of lemmings cry "Oh no!" and then watching 'em pop like popcorn.

The thing is, what, exactly, is funny about watching helpless creatures die at the hands of a malefactor? From the child that derives the greatest of enjoyment from watching an insect sizzle under magnified sunlight, to the teenager who laughs giddily as Freddy Krueger or Jason slashes through yet another witless victim, to the full grown adult who still rolls on the floor for a good crotch-hit and glories in the destructive power of modern weaponry, it seems to be a pretty universal experience. It wouldn't be hard for a powerful government with skilled propagandists to turn genocide into a comedy routine.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Legalizing Marijuana - A New Republican Strategy?

Dugg up on

The Republican Party has a new voter registration project in Fresno. It involves luring people to sign a LEGALIZE MARIJUANA petition and then re-registering them as Republicans.
There's more to it than this, however. First off, the petition first looks like a ballot proposition, but if asked, they admit that it is merely a petition, which will be presented to a prominent lawmaker. When told "I do not want to re-register" they don't take no for an answer. Read the article, please.

Yet another reason to consider the Republican a despicable and corrupt party. If those folks were genuinely on the payroll of the Republican Party... I am at a lost for words. I suppose this is merely my first encounter with blatantly corrupt electoral strategies, and in my hometown, no less! But, dear Lord! What are these people thinking?!

read more | digg story

Monday, August 07, 2006

PRC: How to Challenge Value Assessments

About the PRC (or other land tax descriptions).

On a lunchtime walk, my neurons were firing like crazy about how a Georgist land tax could be implemented, and I came up with the following method for ensuring the accuracy of land-value assessments.

I described in an earlier column a process that involved recording all land sales, paying particular attention to sales of unimproved land, whether infill, the result of a natural disaster (like fire), or in cases where the owner of land and the owner of improvements are seperate entities. This process, however, could still come up in error, whether by a simple mistake, or corruptly deliberate falsification. The idea of leaving it to the courts to figure this out was unsatisfying; I couldn't figure out how to handle this issue. On my walk, I realized how amazingly simple the solution is

Simply put, when someone fails to pay his rent/tax (for whatever reason), the rent/taxing entity (such as the PRC, or a government) would create from the parcel a landholding corporation, with, at its inception, the owner of the property as 100% shareholder. If, for example, the tax rate is 5% of the sale value of the land minus improvements, the taxing entity would then take 5% of that "corporation", leaving the owner with 95%. It would immediately sell off that percentage; the proceeds would satisfy the rent bill. The recorded sale value of the site would immediately be adjusted to match the value paid for the shares.

Shareholders would have the usual rights. A majority of shareholders would have the authority to charge rent to the occupant of the site at whatever rate the majority specified. If they wished to evict the current occupant, they would still have to buy the improvements at whatever rate the occupant specified. Notice that at 5% of sale value, an occupant unable to pay his rent/tax would have a good ten years before privately collected rent even became an issue; there'd be plenty of time for him to consider his options.

Shareholders would also have the usual obligations. They would have to pay their portion of the sale value of the land to the rent/tax collecting entity. Notice that this actually relieves the occupant of some of the burden until the 50% mark is reached.

Finally, notice that this takes a rent/tax value that the occupant either cannot or will not pay and gets a second opinion from the market. If the value the rent/tax collecting entity turns out to be lower than the initial estimate, then the assessment would be adjusted downward. Of course, it could also result in it adjusting upward. This risk would likely result in most people, in most places, paying in money rather than in kind.

An issue one might raise is the potential for the occupant to charge an extortionate amount for the capital improvements when majority shareholders would like to evict him, or the ability of majority shareholders to charge extortionate rent to the occupant.

For the extortionate rent issue, such an act would be self-defeating, in my opinion. Landowners can't really charge more than the market values it at. If they chaged too much, the occupant would simply have to move (the value lowering effect of this kind of tax providing him with more affordable opportunities), and then, they'd be collecting nothing, and paying much to the rent/tax collecting entity. As to capital improvement sales, I personally prefer favoring the occupant. In the event that an occupant simply won't pay his rent (or his rent/tax), but attempts to block default via an extortionate capital sale price, they majority will eventually get the house (or other improvement) via an equally extortionate rent value.

So far as I can tell, I think this system would work well. Feel free to present me with scenarios which make this system a REALLY bad idea.