Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I'm A Fool To Do Your Dirty Work

I will post something good tomorrow. I have been trying to get my "ducks in a line" for next academic year and also my impending move to Wisconsin.

Expect better. God knows that you read this space regularly.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

War Without End: Definitions

In response to the terror attacks in London, I feel that it is necessary to take an in-depth look at terrorism, its history, development, recent contours and lastly the events in London as seen in this context. First, though, at least a working definition of "terrorism" should be sought out.

Terrorism is notoriously hard to define because of the many forms that it has taken over space and time. Terrorism shares many aspects with such concepts as anti-colonial revolution, nationalism, class struggle and organized crime. A terrorism may be all or none of these things, or any combination of these. Also, terrorists may have connections with these more definiable groups, benefitting from their structures but also standing apart from them.

Terrorism has also changed over time, as have the definitions of the phenomenon. The first instance of the use of "terrorism" was applied to the bloodiest period of the French Revolution in late 1793 into early 1794. Terror, as defined by Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety, was the use of violence to insure political confomity with the goals and plans of the Revolution (1). There were, as we all know, a severe reaction (Thermidor) and further on in the Directory and the Consulate, culminating in the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor in 1804 (2). These are not really the roots of the terrorists of today. As we shall see tomorrow, today's terrorists have their roots in Eastern European (and particularly Russian) anarchist movements of the 1870's through the early part of the twentieth century.

So, how to define terrorism? A fascinating study, done in 1988, looked at the recurrence of terms in 109 different definitions of terrorism and came to some interesting conclusions. From their study, Alex P. Schmid, Albert Jongman and colleagues discovered that the following terms were the "top five" in percentage of recurrence in definitions of terror:
  1. Violence, force (83.5%)
  2. Political (65%)
  3. Fear (51%)
  4. Threat (47%)
  5. Psychological effects and anticipated reactions (41.5%)

From these terms and their logical extensions (which form the rest of the list), the elements of a definition begin to emerge (3). The terrorist becomes more differentiated from the lunatic assassin, the criminal or the lone actor with personal motivation.

Bruce Hoffman, in Inside Terrorism, provides more defnintion and nuance to these terms in the task of defining terrorism. He, in differentiating terrorists from other criminals, posits that terrorism is

  • ineluctably political in aims and motives
  • violent - or, equally important, threatens violence
  • designed to have far-reaching psychological reprecussions beyond the immediate victim or target
  • conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiriatorial cell structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia)
  • perpetrated by a subnational group or non-state entity (4).

At the risk of being reductionist, can this be boiled down into a short and accurate defnition of terrorism? The easy answer is "sort of" and the more accurate answer is "not really." Audrey Kurth Cronin attempts such an exercise in her introduction to Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy. She posits that the working definition of terrorism be "the surprise threat or use of seemingly random violence against innocents for political ends by a non-state actor (5)." This raises as many questions as it answers, but it at least provides a starting point for the discussion of the history and present of terrorism and its implications for the past as well as our own time and the future.

Next, we shall erect a framework within which to consider the history and development of terrorism from the late nineteenth century to our own time.


  1. R.R. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1941), 305.
  2. Francois Furet, "Napoleon Bonaparte," in The French Revolution: Recent Debates and New Controversies, ed. Gary Kates (London: Routledge, 1998), 337.
  3. Alex P. Schmid, Albert J. Jongman et al., Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories, and Literature (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988), 5-6.
  4. Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 43.
  5. Audrey Kurth Cronin, "Introduction," in Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy, eds. Audrey Kurth Cronin and James M. Ludes (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2004), 4.

What, Exactly, Is Going On Here?

I think the award for most convoluted news event of recent months (and years) goes to the CIA leak investigation. The players are many, the back-handed goings on are several and the implications are quite yet to be seen in full.

I could not possibly bring together all of the news sources on this topic as they multiply like cancer cells. A few of particular use are this exhaustive timeline which helps in understanding how the situation unfolded. Use this as your guide. What I intend to do is comment on a few of the strands of this situation and speculate as to the long-term effects.

First and foremost is Robert Novak. In the most unfair of turns in this case, Novak remains free and wrote the article on July 14, 2003 that leaked Valerie Plame's name and situation. Judith Miller researched but never wrote such an article as an expansion and follow-up to Joseph Wilson's February 2002 New York Times op-ed (the title of which "What I Didn't Find in Africa," tells the whole story). They were both subpoenaed by the same grand jury (as was Matthew Cooper), testified and we all know the results. It seems to me that Novak has more questions to answer and perhaps Patrick Fitzgerald has talked to him on this subject. I think just about all of the participants have more explaining to do.

Second is Karl Rove. Does this mean that his career in Washington and with the Bush Administration could come to an end, thus ending the influence of the "Architect?" I suspect that Rove, who has shown his mettle in the past, will do everything that he can to survive. He also has the legendary loyalty of the president. As I see it, however, Karl Rove could follow one of two paths. He could, after 2008, become like Paul Begala, James Carville and Dick Morris all rolled into one. He could play the role of the GOP kingmaker, being instrumental in building other marginal presidential candidates into electable politicians. Look what he did for George Bush in his campaigns in Texas, not to mention the 2000 and 2004 campaigns for president. He could very well play the "Architect" for years to come and to many Republican hopefuls to come.

On the other side, he could increasingly become a latter-day Spiro Agnew. As was Agnew to the Nixon Administration, Rove could become a real albatross around the Bush Administration's neck. He could, and there are signs that this may be the case, become the Democrat's best friend and a gift that just keeps giving. It seems that, Reublicans and Democrats (they never mention the rest of us), Americans (or at least those who answer news polls) don't think that the White House is participating fully. They also think that Karl Rove should lose his job if he leaked classified information. Read the full story at ABC News.

This naturally has broader implications for journalists, partially discussed in this space a few months back. Journalism as we know it relies in large part on un-named sources and undisclosed chains of information. This is the basis of investigative journalism. It becomes problematic, however, when classified information enters the picture. In one way, these leaks are necessary to show the inner workings of government and media and the connections between the two. This is the stuff of legendary journalism (as Woodward and Bernstein exhibited). On the other side, where does the line need to be between classified information and the public's right to know and the media's right to report? In the Plame case, there may be legal implications with leaking the identity of undercover agents (willingly, at least). I am in favor of full transparency for the government, but I can't shake a nagging suspicion that there is some information that would be dangerous if it were in the public square. I guess that this dynamic is not dead and will develop as times and situations change both in the U.S. and abroad.

Lastly, this particular case has implications for the ongoing and deteriorating situation in Iraq. For this, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek wrote an excellent piece about why this probe matters. He gets at the real importance of this matter: the fact that this information, that sought and not found by Wilson in 2002, helped lead us into war and languishing hostility and conflict in Iraq. This is really a story about how easily marched to war and how difficult it will be to walk away.

It is not about articles, grand juries, revelations and White House intransigence. It is about the lies that a government is willing to erect in front of the people in order to pursue an agenda without basis in fact or reality. The media is the willing accomplice of this deception and will be the first to pick at the bones of those who get caught.

This is the classic illustration of the famous quotation by newspaper tycoon and media prime mover William Randolph Hearst.

"You furnish the pictures. I'll furnish the war."

Friday, July 15, 2005

Workin' For The Weekend

The above picture was created on what may be my new favorite website, the Church Sign Generator. Have fun!

In addition, why not slap that ho?

Big pieces on Rove/Plume/Novak/... debacle and in depth on the London bombings. You need some fun before these - take my word for it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Don't Torch That Flag, Hand Me The Lighter

Now that the House has passed anti-flag burning legislation and an amenable Senate and President are at the ready to pass it, we need action on the part of all patriotic Americans!

To that end, those brilliant four or five madmen of the Firesign Theater have provided a solution for our time.

Go and play the "Don't Torch That Flag, Hand Me The Lighter" game and show your true colors!

And remember, how can you be in two places at once when you're not anywhere at all?

Open Mouth, Insert Foot?

Maybe I was wrong about Rhenquist.

Well, not wrong, but the situation may change quicker than I figured.

It's in the air. Watch it if you can.

Bernie Ebbers: Fraud Has No Place In True Captialism

Former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers was sentenced today for his leadership of an accounting scandal that involved $11 billion.

Read the timeline of the WorldCom bankruptcy, the largest in the history of American business.

Just for fun, here is the mugshot of Bernie Ebbers when he was arrested in 2003.

This news came as a great relief to me as a lover of freedom and justice and a sometimes apologist for the idea of a capitalist system. Ebbers got exactly what he deserves and I daresay that he should be responsible for every penny of the $2.2 billion that he cost investors with his lies and high-flying lifestyle.

But wait, Will, you said that you are a capitalist? Isn't this sort of thing part of the corrupt capitalist system and further proof of the questionable value of our economic system?

No, not really. The case of Ebbers shows that fraud and deception have no place in the market and furthermore why there is a role for government.

Allow me to explain. The economy should be free, open and clear; it should be a space where individuals and their organizations compete for the best prices and the best quality so that all may benefit. This is how it should normally work. When the dishonest enter the market, such as Bernie Ebbers, and desires to countermand the orderly functioning of the market, the whole system is in jeopardy. This is when other participants must appeal to another body for redress of their grievances and losses.

These dishonest people desire to coerce and force others with their false information and lies into bad decisions and misinformed actions. Ebbers and his ilk have no place in an honest and open system of economic competition. Fraud dissolves confidence in the system and the WorldCom situation is a prime example of this.

Can people ever be confident again? With information and measured risk, I think so. All must be careful as there are risks in all behavior, especially the market.

No risk no return...true, but people must be assured that these risks are reasonable and not based on fraud and lies.

Space: Who Cares?

Well, NASA has scrubbed the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery due to technical problems. Naturally, the cable news outlets and then the media in general is sobbing at this great delay of the return to space of the United States. Amid all of this wailing and gnashing of teeth, I must interject, "I really, really, really couldn't care less."

Why do we indeed still have a space program. Always seemed to me to be a remnant of the Cold War, a new battlefield where the US and the USSR could fight it out for supremacy and the right to spend the other into submission. NASA always struck me as a high tech, low purpose propaganda arm of the US military that could be pulled out and showcased when it seemed that the commies were getting ahead. I somewhat figured that in the aftermath of the Cold War (the years roughly between 1991 and the present), that this would go the way of Civil Defense, bomb shelters and Yakov Smirnov.

Again, I was sadly mistaken. President Bush, in his never ending conquest against the enemies of America, has decided that the best way to rally American morale is to...spend more money for an undiscernable purpose and on a "gee-whiz" public show of American firepower. Well, the war ain't getting him anywhere, so what the heck...let's try space again.

Not to mention the bad track record that NASA has for safety. Bernard McGuirk, producer for the Imus in the Morning radio show, called boarding the Space Shuttle "like getting into a car with Billy Joel." This is both funny and strangely accurate, seeing that astronauts are really taking their lives into their hands with failing guidance systems and almost thirty year old technology.

What is it exactly that NASA has done for us lately? What did they EVER do? Oh, right, the telecommunications satellites. Except those were developed by private companies who rented NASA like a taxi to get into space. So NASA participated in some part in that development. That and Tang is about it.

What else? Where are the moon colonies? Where are the people living on space stations in peace, harmony and matching jumpsuits? Where are the "great benefits" of space exploration?

Nowhere and this fact goes to show that the government is more about intimidation and fear than helping the citizenry. From the beginning, the US government has had the notion of supporting the sciences for the betterment of humankind (nice little Enlightenment idea, no?) This cannot be classified as remotely near that. The US space program is a flagrant and sickening waste of taxpayer dollars that could be spent to solve real problems.

Real problems? Just looking at science, how 'bout cancer, AIDS, childhood diseases, mental illness, addiction, heart disease and on and on? No, that would show that they even care about people and the real problems that plague their lives.

Gee-whizzery, spacemen, scaring the world and spending out of control...that's NASA to me.

And all that talk about "breaking the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of god?" Part of the propaganda package. Just bluff space jockey talk desiged to make heroes of the dupes that are involved in this massive and dangerous waste.

After it is the U.S. government. Par for the course.

This Is Why I Quit

In making decisions about personal issues, one must consider many different factors. My decision to distance myself from the Catholic Church was a long considered and though out one. Over several years, several beliefs and sociopolitical stances of the church were beginning to make me question my relationship with the Church. I came to realize that it was more of a liability than an asset in my life, and I could live a lie no longer.

One makes these decisions and moves on with life a different and hopefully better person for having made them carefully. There are reminders from time to time of why one takes the time to make these important choices.

This is just such a case.

Apparently, the current pope (Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) fears the moral turpitude and doctrinal challenge of Harry Potter.

Yes, that dissipated and evil fictional character is leading children to witchcraft, sorcery, the black arts, tax evasion and full-body massage. He and his no doubt godless creator must be smited (smoten?) from the face of God's Earth so that children can go back to shutting up and doing as their told.

We, as a society, need to GROW UP! At least kids are reading something and not glued to the shining joy box all day long. Are these books great works of literature that will stand the test of time? Maybe not. Is this a concerted attempt to defile the vrigin brains of the world's youth? No, just an attempt (like so much in life) to sell more stuff. Nothing more.

Ahh, the Catholic Church. Tells of a mystic world of spirit and faith, but your ass is out if your vision of this world differs at all from the fiat of the Vatican.

"If you want to raise normal children, keep them as far away from church as possible." - Frank Zappa.

Pundits, What Are They Good For?

Havent't done this in a while, so let's go to the world of punditry and wonkism, where the torture never stops:
  • Anne Coulter - Boy, this raving mental never ceases to amuse. Now she is calling Sandra Day O'Connor "Reagan's biggest mistake." For one thing, I didn't think that conservatives were ever allowed to say anything negative about Reagan. With his funeral last May, his apotheosis for the right was complete. Also, her attack on a justice that refused to run with the group and tried to interpret the law in her best opinion is indicative of the intransigence of the raving right. O'Connor was no saint, but at least she dared buck the line on occasion.
  • Sidney Blumenthal - His piece on the Supreme Court is perceptive in that the Republican base (the likes of Anne Coulter) see this as an opportunity to make abortion and gay marriage illegal. What he misses is the fact that Bush will be forced to nominate a compromise candidate. I think he knows that he risks the integrity of the party if he makes a one-issue nomination. Or, he could not care at all and nominate, say, Anne Coulter.
  • Robert Novak - Commenting on the court, he calls Bush his own greatest obstacle to a successful nomination. That's funny, seems to me that a certain Sun-Times commentator is also becoming an obstacle for his participation in a certain outing of an active CIA agent. Let's see...Judith Miller didn't even write an article and she is in jail. Novak leaks the source and he is a free man. Now THAT makes perfect sense...
  • I forgot where I heard it, but I heard it mentioned that the Bush White House is the most paranoid about security of any other administration in history. I wish I could remember what idiot said this, but have we forgotten RICHARD NIXON? Just because he got caught by his own paranoia dosen't mean that he wasn't the worst. Haldeman and Erlichmann completely controlled access to the president (often seen as a reason why Watergate go out of control).

Encounter these people and make up your own mind. What gives them the right to tell anyone what they think?

You have reason and freedom to use it. Do it while you still can.

Courting Disaster?

With the announced retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor from the Supreme Court, one must wonder what the future holds and how the outcome of this process will shape our nation in the years to come. As has been seen, the Supreme Court has become a more and more important arbiter of policy and at the center of controversies of the day. From abortion to property rights to gay marriage, the high court will doubtless play an important role.

Given the current political climate, especially in the Senate, I think that "shitstorm" is hardly the word to describe the impending melee over this nomination.

In a sense, President Bush must find a moderate that Democrats can live with and a conservative that will please the base of the party that will be crucial in the 2006 mid-term elections and the 2008 race for President. Obviously, such a person does not exist, nor is there any guarantee that this person's ideological stance would stay the same, as O'Connor's did not. Conservatives call the likes of O'Connor and David Souter traitors and consider the Supreme Court a hall of betrayal and broken promises. Liberals point at the lockstep marched by Rhenquist, Scalia and Thomas and are fearful (somewhat justifiably) that President Bush will "pack the court" with hard-right conservatives who will then proceed to eviscerate rights for years to come.

In a certain sense, this is one of the greatest pieces of any president's legacy and his chance to effect the agendas of administrations and people for years to come. Bush will not nominate someone that is unelectable, so don't be afraid of Pat Buchanan or Ann Coulter becoming justices. Will it be Alberto Gonzales? He is not a serious right-conservative, but he has been a long time friend of Pres. Bush. Conservatives don't like him, but he may be more palatable to liberals. He may be the best that they get.

This will be gridlock and provincial politics at its worst. The Democrats will fight anyone that Bush nominates and the Republicans will whine and moan that the Democrats are stonewalling and holding up the process. Several nominees will be marched in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and be argued over, shot down or agreed to and then fail in the whole Senate or get fillibustered out of viability.

Will Rhenquist retire too? I get the feeling that he will die in office. He will not retire. How 'bout Stevens or Ginsburg? Those sound like alarmist rumors that are fake, especially in the case of Ginsburg. She is in the liberal core of the court and would not give Bush the satisfaction.

Will all of this become irrelevant when the person who gets in changes sides or "betrays" someone? Of course it will. Is is inevidable that this will get worse before it gets back to so-so? Not really, but I think that we are headed for rough times ahead.

In the larger picture, though, one thing has not changed. The power of the Supreme Court, an unelected body with lifetime appointments, continues to influence and change policy and pass down decisions that expand the power of the government and negatively effect the people, encroaching on their liberties and making us all less free.

This is where the real fight should be.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

"This Is London"

With those words Edward R. Murrow began his historic broadcasts from London during the darkest days of the Blitz in 1940. What the Blitz showed the world was that Londoners were resolute and resilient in their defense of the city and defiance toward the enemy. They took refuge in the Underground tunnels and emerged to live their lives as normally as possible during the day.

Those same tunnels that sheltered the people of London in 1940 gained changed meaning this past week with the devastating terror attacks meted out by those who would again test the resolve of Britain. If history is any guide, the perpetrators of this destruction will meet with cold, hard British steel.

Seeing as this is a developing story, I cannot say much in the way of cogent analysis. Will that come? Sure, in the days and weeks ahead I will comment in such a manner. Now, however, is the time for reflection on the human aspect and the broader context.

This brings together the cliches concerning conservatives and liberals on the matter of international security. Liberals remind us that suffering is everywhere and conservatives remind us that the world is a dangerous place. They are, naturally, both right and wrong in their own way.

The people of London have been dealing with the threat of terror for thirty-five years now. The constant threat of IRA bombings left Londoners sadder but wiser when it comes to security and safety. It is flippant to say that they will shake this off easily, but they have gained a sort of weary acceptance of this sort of horrific violence.

Was it Al Qaeda? Maybe, looks like their work. Will we ever be sure? Maybe so maybe not.

Suffering is the order of the day for millions that live with fear and violence, from Darfur to Iraq to the Philippines to Colombia. Lest we forget that we are not special in the West with being vulnerable to violence and destruction.

Reasoned commentary to follow in the days and weeks ahead. Now is the time to come to terms with the situation. I know I need a few days.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Great Government Land Grab: The Case Of Kelo v. New London

(Before finishing this discussion of eminent domain, please re-read the first post in this series. It has been updated to reflect some case law that I neglected to mention. It does not change the gist of the argument, but rather adds additional contour to the discussion.)

Turning from the history of eminent domain in American jurisprudence and implications introduced by discussing property rights and personal rights, let us look at the most recent developments surrounding the June 23, 2005 decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Kelo v. New London.

First, some background on the situation that began this case on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The city of New London, CT, by the first years of the new century, was experiencing a considerable economic downturn, and the city council and local business community were looking for areas where expanded economic development could occur. In 1998, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer began to build a new research facility on the outskirts of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood in New London. Seeing an opportunity, the City of New London, through a private, city-controlled entity called the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), considered a re-development plan for the Fort Trumbull neighborhood to take advantage of new economic activity brought in by the Pfizer plant. This plan included a resort hotel, conference center, 80-100 new dwellings and other space for office, commercial and residential spaces. The plan was approved by the city council in 2000 and authorized the NLDC to acquire the land in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood.

Fort Trumbull itself is an older neighborhood consisting of ninety acres and 115 residential lots. Fifteen of the residents of the neighborhood refused to sell their land to the NLDC, among them Suzette Kelo who became the leading plaintiff in the case to come. The City of New London decided to use its powers of eminent domain in this situation; the order was issued to the NLDC to condemn the fifteen lots of the "holdouts" so that the development could proceed. It was at this point that Suzette Kelo and her fellow residents formed their case and took it first to the appellate level of the Supreme Court of Connecticut.

In this case, the owners and their attorneys from the Institute of Justice argued that the city had misused the power of eminent domain because the development proposed by the NLDC study was not clearly for public use. The Supreme Court of Connecticut decided on March 9, 2004 that the use of eminent domain for economic development did not violate the public use clause of the Fifth Amendment. The court found that if an economic development creates new jobs, increases tax revenue and revitalizes a depressed (not even blighted) area, then it qualifies as a public use. The court concluded by saying that the delegation of eminent domain power by the city to a private entity is permissable if the private entity is considered the agent and principal of the government.

Kelo and her fellow litigants decided to appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari to consider the issues raised by this situation in the light of Berman v. Parker and Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff. This case had, as mentioned before, had an additional twist in the fact that a private entity (the NLDC) was taking private property from individuals and giving it to another private entity (the land developers).

In preparing this case, an impressive number of amicus curiae briefs were filed for the plaintiff. These briefs were filed by such diverse organizations as the NAACP, AARP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. These groups in particular argued that the eminent domain power is often used in poor and disadvantaged communities with high populations of elderly and minorities. The case was officially argued on February 22, 2005 in front of seven of the nine Supreme Court justices. Chief Justice William Rhenquist was recovering from an ongoing illness and John Paul Stevens was delayed in returning from Florida. They both read the briefs and participated in the later decision; the pleadings were overseen by Sandra Day O'Connor.

The court decided in favor of New London and against the plaintiffs on June 23, 2005. It was a 5-4 decision with the following breakdown of voting:
  • Majority opinion by John Paul Stevens, concurrance by Anthony Kennedy and joined by David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer.
  • Dissent by Sandra Day O'Connor, separate dissent by Clarence Thomas and joined by Antonin Scalia and William Rhenquist.

In the majority opinion, Stevens argues that governments should have wide latitude to seize property in making local land use decisions that best benefit those individual communities. He asserts that the city has a development plan that it believes will benefit the community with jobs and tax revenue. He dismisses the notion that the decision could be used and abused in other situations; he said that these situations should be dealt with as they came and not pre-emptively in these proceedings. In his concurrance, Kennedy argues for a somewhat narrower definition of the eminent domain power, but argues that these sorts of decisions should be with in the legal purview of local governments.

In her dissent, O'Connor suggested that the use of the eminent domain power in this manner would lead to "rob from the poor, give to the rich" becoming the norm rather than the exception. She argues further that since any property can be taken for any private entity, the beneficiaries of this are likely to be the citizens who hold disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including corporations and development firms. This decision, she concludes, eliminates any distinction between private and public property and, in effect, erases the words for public use from the Fifth Amendment.

In his separate dissent, Thomas argues that the precedents that were relied on were flawed, as was the court's interpretation of the Fifth Amendment. He accuses the court of replacing the public use test used in the Fifth Amendment with a very different standard for judging the "public use" of an eminent domain condemnation. He finds it extremely dubious that an expensive private development plan with vague promises of jobs and revenue that is strangely advantageous to the Pfizer corporation consists anything remotely close to "public use." He also used the text of the NAACP/AARP/SCLC amicus brief, noting that losses and seizures will fall disproportionately on poor communities with less power and less resource for development.

The wider effects of this case have, naturally, yet to be seen. It will have little effect in the eight states that specifically prohibit the use of eminent domain for any other reason than removal of profound blight: Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington. There are two immediate developments, though, that do directly descend from this decision and present interesting implications of their own.

First, there has been action taken in Congress to narrow the definition of "public use" in the wake of the Kelo decision. On June 27, 2005, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced S.1313, which would specifically define that public use does not include economic development. This definition will apply to eminent domain as used by the federal government and states and localities using federal funds. This bill has eighteen cosponsors, and has been read and refered to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Representative Dennis Rehberg (R-MT). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has argued that this legislation violates the separation of powers, saying that the court made its decision and Congress should not interfere in this case because it is not the place of Congress to countermand the orders of the Supreme Court.

It is clear to me that this situation represents a very problematic assertion of government over the rights of citizens. People have the right to dispose of their property as they see fit, to keep or sell it freely. When the government encroaches on this right, especially under the auspices of a private entity, the personal rights of the people are violated. Even beyond this is the idea that the government has redefined the meaning of public to benefit not only themselves but private economic interests to the detrement of the general populace.

This also expands the power of the government over the rights of the individual and restricts the freedom of individual people. This is a power no government can or should have. The people must be free actors, free from coercion and pressure to live their lives and enjoy their property in any manner they see fit. The laws must protect the rights of citizens against the power of the state. No law that is good or fair can ever restrict the rights of the people. These rights are natural and inherent in the humanity of the individual, and the state (an entity created by the people) cannot restrict these rights.

The fact that this decision will adversely effect the poor and disadvantaged is also profoundly troubling. The poor and marginalized are in the most dire need of having their rights protected from the encroachment of a state that would wield their power over them and against their interest. It should not be for the state to decide when these neighborhoods are in need of redevelopment; this is why we have such things as private enterprise and local entrepreneurship that will rebuild communities according to the wishes of the citizens and not government and powerful commercial interests.

Am I against private enterprise and development? Far from it and I believe that this decision hurts private enterprise. By promoting the interests of large business concerns and governments over individual investors and developers, this decision makes the competitive landscape for land development even more uneven than it already is. It is not the job of government to intervene in the affairs of business; business is the exculsive province of the individual and private. The private sector should compete with each other without government interference, calling on the government to enforce laws such as fraud or other torts.

Ultimately, this decision abrogates the very freedoms that the government should be charged with protecting. Without considerable action to restore the Constitution as the law of the land, the rights guaranteed therein will become more and more a distant memory. Rights die from lack of exercise; people need to defend and promote their rights over the government at every turn and in every sector of life. Freedom isn't something that can be ingnored and found unharmed at irregular intervals. The government would much rather that these freedoms were gone and that individuals could be molded into the form of the state.

The government doesn't care about you or your rights. All it cares about is finding ways to separate you from the rights that are yours by the simple fact that you are a human being. We cannot let this happen without a fight. Life, liberty and property are sacrosanct. The government dosen't care enough to protect them. Do you?

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Great Government Land Grab: Personal Rights and Property Rights

This discussion, in desiring to probe the center of the eminent domain issue, will focus on the ideological underpinnings of the idea of private property and also the fact that these rights are as natural as the right of self-ownership. Three different perspectives will be presented and then integrated into a better and clearer picture of the origin of property rights in any free society.

The first perspective, and the foundation of property rights ideology in the United States, is that of seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704). More specifically, in his 1689 Second Treatise of Government, Locke lays out the argument for the existence of property rights that influenced U.S. law and such documents as the Declaration of Independence. Locke's argument begins with the reasonable assertion that every man (his words) has property over his own person and, by extension, over "the labor of his body and the work of his hands (1)." He then goes on to state that:
  • "Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to (2)."

It is easy to extend this idea of property to such things as intellectual property, wage labor and other economic structures and factors that came into prominence in the centuries since Locke's originally conceived it. The premise is that people own their bodies and the labor and industry that they produce (of course, in a wage system, they trade this labor for money and not by direct production). When this labor is mixed with the raw materials of nature, be they concrete or otherwise, the laborer has a right to take possession of said property.

This conversion of labor into real property respects the self-ownership of the individual and also respects the exertion necessary to support oneself and flourish by the work of the hands and mind. Since this system of property ownership descends from the impetus of the individual, it can be said that it favors the rights of the individual over that of the collective, including the government and other people who did not work or labor for the particular property in question. It, and here is where eminent domain comes in, protects the property rightfully and legally gained by the individual from seizure by other people or the government. This shows a strong (I think) case against the government ever having the power to take the property of private citizens.

In a work composed in our own time, Murray N. Rothbard's For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, this idea is extended and given more texture by considering the implications of these ideas in the modern world. Rothbard agrees with the general principles set out by Locke, and further asks "if a producer is not entitled to the fruit of his labor, who is (3)?" Rothbard also argues, in an important extension of Locke, that property rights cannot be separated from human rights. He argues that those who agree in the protection of rights such as freedom of speech and expression who deny that people have rights to property have the tendency to treat human beings as ethereal abstractions (4). If a person truly has self-ownership (and only those who believe in slavery or servitude would believe otherwise), then this person must also have the right to sustain their lives by living off and from the environment, transforming and changing resources. To sustain the right of property in oneself, one must also have the right in the material world (5).

The implications for the eminent domain situation are strongly suggested by Rothbard's argument. If property rights are human rights, when they are violated, they cause much more of a problem than may be imagined. Eminent domain, as defined by judicial precedent and understood today, seems to be in ignorance of this idea of the right of people to property in themselves and the material world. It is indeed inhumane to deny these rights to people who diligently and honestly work and earn property by their mental and physical labor. Any state that would do so is abusing the rights of it's citizens.

Lastly, the logical conclusion comes from F.A. Hayek in his classic 1944 book Road to Serfdom. Hayek argues that:

  • "...the system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production are divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves (6)."

Following his general argument in Road to Serfdom, Hayek introduces the idea of property rights as a necessary and important check on the power of the state to control the lives of individuals. This ownership must be de-centralized to prevent the state from gaining complete control over the property, and therefore the rights, of the citizenry.

Taken in consideration with yesterday's discussion, what can be said of the relation between eminent domain and property rights? This is answered simply enough in light of the preceding discussion: there can be no power of eminent domain in any form in a society of free individuals. Unless the citizens agree on the public use of the land to be taken, are paid a fair price and are not coerced into vacating their property and therefore cede their rights, this power should not be extended to any state. The right of the people to their property is sacrosanct and no government that respects the primacy of the individual and his/her rights would deny this idea. These ideas call into serious question the idea of eminent domain in a free society.

Next week, we shall look at the current situation in the light of these considerations; namely, the 2005 decision of the Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London. It's implications will be considered in the light of the aforementioned arguments concerning property, personal and natural rights.


  1. John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, ed. C.B. Macpherson (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1980), 19.
  2. Ibid., 19.
  3. Murray N. Rothbard, For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (San Francisco, CA: Fox and Wilkes, 1979), 35.
  4. Ibid., 42.
  5. Ibid., 43.
  6. F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 115.