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Saturday, October 04, 2003

No Flies On The U.S.:

In his recent article Flypaper: A Strategy Unfolds, Andrew Sullivan trots out some confirming evidence for the theory that the U.S. is pursuing a “flypaper strategy” in Iraq — encouraging the Islamic terror network to fight American soldiers there so they won't be attacking American civilians here.

Mr. Sullivan's analysis is plausible. Plausible enough that my reaction to the article, especially the last paragraph in which he urges Bush to articulate the strategy as a way of scoring domestic political points. was: “OK, you've demonstrated your cleverness. Now would you kindly zip your lip before you undermine the strategy?”

The leaders of the Islamist terror network are certainly evil and arguably insane (if only in the general way that all religious believers are insane) but they're not stupid. If the President of the United States got on network T.V. and yelled “We have a flypaper strategy! We're encouraging all the world's nut-jobs to attack us in Iraq so they won't attack us in the U.S.”, just what do you suppose would be the result?

Would our favorite murderous ragheads nod agreeably, say “Peachy, we'll play your game and keep attacking you where you think you're strongest?” Or would they bend all their efforts to ginning up another mass-murder in the U.S. just to prove they can do it and the flypaper isn't working?

For anyone to talk about a flypaper strategy in public is irresponsible. For Sullivan to urge that Bush should cop to it in public in order to one-up his domestic opponents is beyond irresponsible into idiotic and feckless. The President of the U.S. would be profoundly derelict in his duty if he courted lethal danger to American civilians by doing any such thing.

I'm normally a fan of Andrew Sullivan. His writing is witty if occasionally a bit febrile, and he is clear-eyed on a handful of subjects that normally induce rectocranial inversion in conservatives. But today he should be ashamed of himself. He has engaged in the exact same error he has excoriated in others, which is treating the rest of the world as a mere backdrop to domestic American political feuds.

And I have some advice for him: Mr. Sullivan, next time you feel the urge to be clever in public, do us all a favor and ask yourself how many innocent lives you might be endangering by running your mouth. If the answer is more than zero, shut up!

posted by Eric at 11:33 PM          

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

If Guns Are Outlawed, Outlaws Will Use Crossbows

This happened about 15 minutes from where I live:

Police in West Chester are looking for an assailant they believe used a crossbow to shoot a pedestrian from a passing SUV.

The victim, a restaurant worker who was walking home along High Street early Sunday morning, was shot in the stomach with a 16-inch hunting arrow. He was released Wednesday from the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.

Benito Vargas told police he was at the corner of High and Barnard Streets at about 1 a.m. when he saw the white SUV's driver-side window slide down, revealing the front part a crossbow just inside. Seconds later, he was lying on the ground.


"This thing would be silent. You wouldn't hear any noise," West Chester Detective Thomas Yarnall said. [...] Yarnall said the shooting appeared random [...]

Gives a whole old meaning to the phrase "looking for a quarrel", which in fact, originally referred to a crossbow bolt.

posted by Eric at 6:48 PM          

Monday, September 29, 2003

Statism — Love It Or Leave It

For many years I've been seeing proposals for implementing libertarian reforms that look superficially appealing and plausible, but on closer examination run hard aground either on some pesky reality of politics as it is or the extreme difficulty of waging a successful revolution. Since I'm a libertarian, you may well imagine that I find this annoying. How do we get there from here?

For the first time, I think I've seen a path that is both principled and practical. Not the whole path, but some firm steps that both accomplish good in themselves and open up great possibilities. And the best part is that it's a path most statists can't object to, one that uses the premises of the existing federal system to achieve a fair first test of libertarian ideas within that system. Even opponents of libertarianism, if they are fair-minded, should welcome this reality check. Libertarians should cheer it on and join it.

I've had troubles with other libertarians recently. Too many have retreated into isolationism in the face of a war with terrorism that I do not believe we can or should evade. The isolationists judge that empowering the State when we use it as an instrument of self-defense has consequences for the long term that are more dangerous than terrorists' aims are in the short term. I sympathize with this view, but when all is said and done, Al-Qaeda shahids with backpack nukes from the 'stans are more of a danger than John Ashcroft has ever been. I have done my homework and if anything, I believe the U.S. Government is understating the danger we face.

But the dangers of empowering the State to fight a necessary war make it more, not less urgent that we pursue all possibilities for libertarian reform at home. Now, I think I see a workable one. What if, by perfectly legal and proper means, we could take over a small American state and actually try out our ideas there?

Yes, I thought it was a crazy idea when I first heard it. An entire state? How? But the Free State Project has done the math. I've looked at their arguments and trend curves, and I'm pretty much convinced. It can be done. We can do it. The key is very simple; enough of us just have to move there. Vote with our feet, and then vote in a bloc. And why a state? Becausr that's the only intermediate level of government with enough autonomy to make a good laboratory.

The Free State Project identified ten small states where 20,000 active libertarians would be a critically large voting bloc. They are signing up libertarians and like-minded people to vote on the target state and to move there when the group passes 20,000. The winning state will be announced on 1st October; they've signed up about 5400 people so far, on a classic exponential growth curve with a six-month doubling time that should get them there in late 2004.

What could be more American than migrating to a thinly-settled area to experiment with liberty? And this time we won't have to kill off the natives, because they're not going to be organizing any scalping parties. Most of the states under consideration have a strong local libertarian tradition, and none of them are going to look askance at the sort of bright, hardworking, highly-skilled people most likely to be pro-freedom activists.

Some people won't like this idea, though. The national media establishment, which is statist down to its bones even in the few crevices where it isn't leftist, will inevitably try to portray the Free State migrants as a bunch of racist conservative redneck gun-nuts (all these terms being effectively synonymous in the national media) intent on turning the poor victim state into one gigantic Aryan Nations compound (especially if it's Idaho, as it could be). Expect network-news interviews with locals teary-eyed with worry that the incomers will be hosting regular cross-burnings on the courthouse lawn. Awkward little inconsistencies like the libertarian opposition to drug laws, censorship, and theocracy will be ignored. This prospect is especially ironic because, in most of the possible target states, it is our lifestyle liberalism that is actually most likely to produce a culture clash with the natives.

The more intelligent members of the political class won't like this either. The brighter and better-able one is to extrapolate second-and-third-order effects, the more likely the potential success of libertarianism at a state level is likely to scare them — conservatives nearly as much as liberals, and conservatives perhaps more so when we challenge them to emulate our success with small-government policies that they speak but don't really mean.

But I don't think this will be easy to stop. Libertarian demographics being what they are, 20,000 of us in a small state will be a huge concentration of technical, creative and entrepreneurial talent. We'll found software businesses, studios, innovative light-manufacturing shops and engineering companies by the bucketload. We'll create favorable regulatory conditions for old-line businesses like financial-services houses and for bleeding-edge ones like the private space-launch industry. We'll attract more people like us. The lucky state, especially if it's depressed and mostly rural like a lot of the candidates, will experience a renaissance. And we'll get to make the difference.

The real fun will start when Americans elsewhere start asking "Why can't our state be more like this?"

Liberty in our lifetime? I think this might be how to get there.

posted by Eric at 5:47 PM