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Liberty Still Has a Fighting Chance

By Lawrence W. Reed

This speech was delivered at FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 8, 2015.

Over a nine-month period beginning in 1831, a 26-year-old Frenchman visited nearly every corner of what were then the 24 states of the American Republic. He traveled from New England to the upper Midwest to the Gulf Coast in the Deep South to the mid-Atlantic. Then he wrote a great book full of amazing insights. It made its appearance 180 years ago, in 1835. Perhaps nobody before or since has defined the essence of America better than he did; but then, no other nation in history offered an essence so profoundly exceptional.

Less than half a century after the ratification of the Constitution, America was still an infant nation, but Alexis de Tocqueville sensed the stirrings of greatness. He praised our entrepreneurial drive and initiative, our self-reliance and personal independence, and our vibrant civil society institutions and voluntary associations. He felt that our ideals would eventually lead us to lead the world. He believed that America had placed two sacred principles — freedom and equality — on a higher pedestal than any previous civilization had. They were, he said, our most defining characteristics, the sources of our strength. But he also feared that we would carry one to an extreme that would undermine the other. Milton Friedman was echoing Tocqueville when he said in the 20th century, “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”

Tocqueville’s appreciation of freedom knew few bounds. Here is perhaps his most eloquent endorsement of it:

Even despots accept the excellence of liberty. The simple truth is that they wish to keep it for themselves and promote the idea that no one else is at all worthy of it. Thus, our opinion of liberty does not reveal our differences but the relative value which we place on our fellow man. We can state with conviction, therefore, that a man’s support for absolute government is in direct proportion to the contempt he feels for his country.

He masterfully described how the growth of government could smother our freedoms:

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the government then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence: it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Tocqueville’s view of equality is more nuanced. He had no issue with the ideal of equality before the law or even equality of opportunity. He hated slavery and any unwarranted discrimination. He agreed with the words of our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” But he had no illusions that individuals were thereafter equal in their energies, their talents, their ambitions, their intellect or their character. He was afraid that our egalitarian impulses might someday get the better of us.

Here we are now, decades into the very egalitarian welfare state Tocqueville warned would be the death of American exceptionalism.

“I have a passionate love for liberty, law, and respect for rights,” he wrote. “Liberty is my foremost passion. But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.”

This issue is so critical to our freedoms and our future that I want to dwell on it for a moment.

Remember this: Free people are not equal, and equal people are not free.

Put another way, in terms of economics, think of it this way: Free people will earn different incomes. Where people have the same income, they cannot be free.

Economic equality in a free society is a snare and a delusion that redistributionists envision. But free people are different people, not programmable robots, so it should not come as a surprise that they earn different incomes. Our talents and abilities are not identical. We don’t all work as hard. And even if we all were magically made equal in wealth tonight, we’d be unequal in the morning because some of us would spend our newfound wealth, and some of us would save it.

To produce even a rough measure of economic equality, governments must issue the following orders and back them up with punishment and prisons: Don’t excel or work harder than the next guy, don’t come up with any new ideas, don’t take any risks, and don’t do anything different from what you did yesterday.

In other words, don’t be human.

Economic inequality, when it derives from the voluntary interaction of creative individuals and not from political power or connections, testifies to the fact that people are being themselves, putting their unique skills to work in ways that are fulfilling to themselves and of value to others. As Tocqueville himself might say, Vive la différence!

People obsessed with economic equality do strange things. They become envious of others. They covet. They divide society into two groups: villains and victims. They spend far more time dragging somebody down than they do pulling anybody up. They’re not fun to be around.

And if they make it to a legislature, they can do real harm. Then they not only call the cops — they are the cops.

If economic inequality is an ailment, punishing effort and success is no cure in any event. Coercive, envy-based measures that aim to redistribute wealth prompt the smart or politically well-connected “haves” to seek refuge in havens here or abroad, while the hapless “have-nots” bear the full brunt of economic decline. A more productive expenditure of time would be to work to erase the mass of intrusive government that ensures that the “have-nots” are also the “cannots.”

People obsessed with economic equality do strange things. They spend far more time dragging somebody down than they do pulling anybody up.

Another superb alternative to coercive redistribution would be to work on our character — each of us, one at a time — so that we’re not only good enough for liberty, but good enough to earn a living instead of voting for one.

This economic-equality thing is not compassionate. When it’s just an idea, it’s bunk. When it’s public policy, it’s compulsory insanity. To those who can’t understand how different or unequal we are as individuals, I say, “Get over it!”

Tocqueville warned that this unhealthy obsession with economic equality, combined with an erosion in the respect for liberty and property, would produce what we today would call the welfare state. Let me offer you a description of the welfare state. Somebody once said that it got its name because in it, the politicians get well and the rest of us pay the fare. Just picture people in a giant circle with each having one hand in the next person’s pocket.

The whole notion of the welfare state rests on this really dumb proposition: since people are not decent and compassionate enough to assist their deserving fellows in distress, we must expect them to elect politicians who are more decent and compassionate than they are. How ridiculous! Those politicians then take money from us under threat of imprisonment, launder it through an expensive bureaucracy, and spend what’s left not to actually solve the problem but to manage it into perpetuity for endless dependency, demagoguery, and political gain. And then the advocates of the welfare state compliment themselves for possessing a monopoly on compassion and totally ignore the destructive results of their own handiwork.

So here we are now, decades into the very egalitarian welfare state Tocqueville warned would be the death of American exceptionalism. It threatens to make us like all the other forgettable welfare states that languish in history’s dustbins, Greece included. Should we just assume it’s inevitable and go along for the ride? Or should we muster the character that built a nation and that Tocqueville identified as quintessentially American?

If you’re pessimistic, then you’re no longer part of the solution. You’ve become part of the problem. What chance does liberty have if its supposed friends desert it in its hour of need or speak ill of its prospects?

Ask yourselves, What good purpose could a defeatist attitude possibly promote? Will it make me work harder for the causes I know are right? Is there anything about liberty that an election or events in Congress disprove? If I exude a pessimistic demeanor, will it help attract newcomers to the ideas I believe in? Is this the first time in history that believers in liberty have lost some battles? If we simply throw in the towel, will that enhance the prospects for future victories? Do we turn back just because the hill we have to climb got a little steeper?

This is not the time to abandon time-honored principles. I can’t speak for you, but someday, I want to go to my reward and be able to look back and say, “I never gave up. I never became part of the problem I tried to solve. I never gave the other side the luxury of winning anything without a rigorous, intellectual contest. I never missed an opportunity to do my best for what I believed in, and it never mattered what the odds or the obstacles were. I did my part.”

Remember that we stand on the shoulders of many people who came before us and who persevered through far darker times. The American patriots who shed their blood and suffered through unspeakable hardships as they took on the world’s most powerful nation in 1776 are certainly among them. But I am also thinking of the brave men and women behind the Iron Curtain who resisted the greatest tyranny of the modern age and won. I think of those like Hayek and Mises who kept the flame of liberty flickering in the 1940s. I think of the heroes like William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson who fought to end slavery and literally changed the conscience and character of Britain in the face of the most daunting of disadvantages. And I think of the Scots who, 456 years before the Declaration of Independence, put their lives on the line to repel English invaders with these thrilling words: “It is not for honor or glory or wealth that we fight, but for freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life.”

As I think about what some of those great men and women faced, the obstacles before us today seem rather puny.

This is a moment when our true character, the stuff we’re really made of, will show itself. If we retreat, that would tell me we were never really worthy of the battle in the first place. But if we resolve to let these challenging times build our character and rally our dispirited friends to new levels of dedication, we will look back on this occasion someday with pride at how we handled it. Have you called a friend yet today to explain to him or her why liberty should be a top priority?

Nobody ever promised that liberty would be easy to attain or simple to keep. The world has always been full of greedy thieves and thugs, narcissistic power seekers, snake-oil charlatans, unprincipled ne’er-do-wells, and arrogant busybodies. No true friend of liberty should just roll over and play dead for any of them.

Take an inventory every day of what you’re doing for liberty. Get more involved in the fight. There are plenty of things you can do. If your state isn’t a right-to-work state, work to make it so. Support people and organizations like the Foundation for Economic Education that are teaching young people about the importance of liberty and character. Get behind the Compact for America and its plan for a balanced federal budget and an end to reckless spending and debt. Work for school choice in your state to help break the government monopoly on education. And be the very best example for liberty and character that you can possibly be in everything you do.

Whatever you do, don’t give up no matter what. Remember these words of the great US Supreme Court justice George Sutherland: “The saddest epitaph which can be carved in memory of a vanished liberty is that it was lost because its possessors failed to stretch forth a saving hand while yet there was time.”

Can Tocqueville’s American exceptionalism be restored? Can it last? You bet it can. The American Dream still lives, in the hearts of those who love liberty and refuse to meekly surrender it. So let’s wipe the frowns off our faces and get to work. Our future, our children’s future — liberty’s future — all depend on us. 

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Donald Trump dominates in new CNN poll

(CNN) — In the first national telephone poll since Donald Trump earned rebukes from Republican leaders over his comments about Senator John McCain’s military service, the real estate mogul has increased his support among GOP voters and now stands atop the race for the party’s nomination.

The new CNN/ORC Poll finds Trump at 18% support among Republicans, with former Florida governor Jeb Bush just behind at 15%, within the poll’s margin of error.

They are joined at the top of the pack by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, with 10% support among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who are registered to vote. Trump’s backing has climbed 6 points since a late-June poll, while support for Bush and Walker has not changed significantly.

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New pics show Bush administration reaction to 9/11

(PBS) In never-before-released photographs taken on Sept. 11, 2001, the shock, horror and gravity of the terrorist attacks can be read on the faces of President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, their wives Laura and Lynne, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet and other senior Bush and Cheney staffers.

The photos were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Colette Neirouz Hanna, coordinating producer for the Kirk Documentary Group, which covered the Bush administration in many films for FRONTLINE, including Bush’s War, Cheney’s Law and The Dark Side.

The photographs, which were taken by the vice president’s staff photographer, show Cheney watching footage of the World Trade Center attack in his office. Other photos show Cheney and other senior staffers meeting in the President’s Emergency Operations Center, or the secure bunker deep underneath the White House.

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Supreme Court: No More Lifetime Appointments

By Doug Bandow

Democrats and Republicans alike have turned Supreme Court appointments into a partisan slugfest. No wonder: while the judiciary has long been described as the least dangerous branch of government, the court has become instead a continuing constitutional convention. Just five votes can turn the Constitution inside out.

The latest Supreme Court term was seen as a shift to the left. The high court rewrote Obamacare to save the president’s landmark legislation to socialize American health care and completed a social revolution by nationalizing gay marriage. These decisions set off a flurry of promises from Republican Party presidential candidates to confront the judiciary.

Extreme Measures

Jeb Bush said he would only appoint judges “with a proven record of judicial restraint,” even though previous presidents claiming to do the same chose Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, and John Roberts, among many other conservative disappointments.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called for judicial retention elections. Such a change at the federal level would require a constitutional amendment, though it would mimic the practices of some 20 states. Even more controversially, Cruz suggested that only those whose case was brought before the justices had to respect Supreme Court rulings.

Extreme measures seem necessary because a simultaneously progressive and activist judiciary has joined the legislature and executive in forthrightly making public policy.

Should Justices Serve for Life?

The influence of judges has been magnified by their relative immunity from political pressure. Although the courts sometimes follow the election returns, in many cases — such as abortion and gay marriage — judicial decisions have short-circuited normal political discourse.

That fact alone makes judicial appointments important. Their significance is magnified by judges’ life tenure.

Lose the battle over filling a Supreme Court slot and you may suffer the consequences for decades. Gerald Ford’s unelected presidency merits little more than a historical footnote, but his Supreme Court legacy long persisted through Justice John Paul Stevens, a judicial ideologue hostile to liberty in most forms. Republicans going back to Dwight Eisenhower publicly lamented the evolution of their appointees, and every one of them made at least one choice that ultimately advanced a big-government agenda. Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts fill that role today.

Lifetime tenure has other consequences. The appointment process is endlessly arbitrary, as judges hang on, irrespective of advancing age. Although instances of obvious infirmity are few — the last clear Supreme Court case was William O. Douglas, who served more than 36 years before retiring in 1975 — outcomes should not be affected by actuarial tables. A gerontocratic court differs dramatically from the society on behalf of which its members purport to speak. The lack of turnover also may deaden court debate, reinforcing established patterns of thinking.

Fixed terms would establish judicial accountability.

 

Independence versus Accountability

Life tenure is enshrined in the Constitution and rooted in history. The justification for lifetime appointment is to insulate the courts from transient political pressures. Some such protection is necessary if judges are to feel free to make unpopular decisions upholding the nation’s fundamental law.

Yet, judicial independence does not require lack of accountability. Judges are supposed to play a limited though vital role: interpreting, not transforming, the law. The dichotomy of activism versus restraint is the wrong prism for viewing judges. They should be active in enforcing the law, striking down legislation, and vindicating rights when required by the Constitution. They should be restrained in substituting their policy preferences for those of elected representatives.

When jurists violate this role, as do so many judges, they should be held accountable. Unfortunately, many of the proposed responses are more dangerous than the judges themselves. For instance, limiting court jurisdiction or impeaching errant jurists, oft proposed in the past, provides obvious opportunities for abuse. Worse is Cruz’s idea that most people should ignore the Supreme Court. Where government branches collide, someone must have a final say, or else the result will be enduring political conflict and limited legal legitimacy.

Ignore the Court?

More important, Cruz would presumably not want politicians to ignore court rulings with which he agreed. After all, as originally conceived, the judiciary was tasked with the critical role of holding the executive and legislative branches accountable, limiting their propensity to exceed their bounds and abuse the people. For instance, Alexander Hamilton imagined independent courts playing a “peculiarly essential” role to safeguard liberties and being an “excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body.” Indeed, he contended, the judiciary would “guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals” from “the people themselves.”

Thomas Jefferson argued that judges would provide a “legal check” on political majorities. James Madison, often viewed as the father of the Constitution, predicted that

independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves in a peculiar manner the guardians of [Bill of Rights guarantees]; they will be an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive; they will be naturally led to resist every encroachment upon rights expressly stipulated for in the constitution by the declaration of rights.

Of course, all too often the judiciary fails to fulfill this role today. No less than the presidents and congressmen, judges have become avid advocates of statism. Jurists as well as politicians should be held accountable. Unreviewable power is always dangerous.

Throw the Bums Out?

Some 20 states have implemented Cruz’s second idea, of retention elections. Few judges are defenestrated, but on occasion, the results are dramatic. Three decades ago, California voters ousted three state supreme court jurists who had effectively repealed the death penalty. In 2010, Iowa voters defeated three state supreme court judges who ruled in favor of gay marriage.

National judicial elections, however, would be far more problematic. Should the decision be made via national vote or by a majority of state votes? Moreover, it is hard to believe that Americans who today choose their president based on 30-second television spots would pay serious attention to esoteric legal issues and make the fine distinctions characteristic of legal and constitutional analysis. Worse, judicial votes might reinforce the reigning political consensus, allowing majorities to remove justices most prepared to enforce the constitution against those in power. Unfortunately, further politicizing the judiciary would be an uncertain means of counteracting the problem of a politicized judiciary.

There is a better alternative.

The Solution: Fixed Terms

The Constitution should be amended to authorize fixed terms for federal judges. Perhaps one term of 10 or 12 years for Supreme Court justices, though Federalist Society founder Steve Calabresi suggested 18-year terms. Another option would be a renewable term of 6 or 8 years. Staggering terms would ensure every president at least a couple of appointments. Mixing short and long terms would expand diversity.

Such an approach would offer several advantages. While every appointment would remain important, judicial nominations would no longer be as likely to become political Armageddon. The new justice’s service would be bounded with his exit from office already set, and another appointment would be due a couple of years later.

Term limits also would ensure a steady transformation of the court’s membership. New additions at regular intervals would encourage intellectual as well as physical rejuvenation of the court. No longer would justices attempt to desperately hang on in order to outlast a president of another party. Law rather than health would determine the pace of judicial appointments.

Most important, fixed terms would establish judicial accountability. Justices still would be independent, largely immune to political retaliation for their decisions. Thus, if so inclined, they still could “resist every encroachment upon rights expressly stipulated for in the constitution by the declaration of rights.”

Nevertheless, abusive judges would no longer serve for life. Elective officials could reassert control over the court without destroying the judicial institution. There would be no court-packing, a la Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as transformation would take time, over two or three presidencies.

The Supreme Court has become as consequential as the presidency in making public policy. Indeed, contrary to their originally envisioned role, judges have become as likely as politicians to push to expand state power and limit individual liberty. It is necessary to find a way to impose accountability while preserving independence. Appointing judges to fixed terms would simultaneously achieve both objectives.

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War Is No Excuse for Socialist Planning

By Robert P. Murphy

After the Soviet Union fell, just about everybody — except some humanities professors at Harvard — agreed that full-blown central planning was a bad way to produce food, cars, and television sets. However, people still seem to have a soft spot for planning when it comes to a “war economy.”

Even many who claim to support laissez-faire will make exceptions for such an “emergency,” going so far as to embrace price controls, rationing, and even conscription of labor. President George W. Bush, for example, claimed in 2008 that he had “abandoned free market principles to save the free market system” — and many conservatives supported him.

However, if the country’s security is at stake, this is precisely when we need the superior efficiency of markets the most. If we can agree that capitalism produces more food and better computers than socialism, we should trust it to produce more bombs and better tanks, too.

Who Plans for Victory?

In his classic treatise Human Action, Ludwig von Mises — who had served in an artillery unit in World War I and was no stranger to the Nazis’ military might — explained the flaws in the popular notion that government economic planning is needed in a major war:

What America needed in order to win [World War II] was a radical conversion of all its production activities. All not absolutely indispensable civilian consumption was to be eliminated. The plants and farms were henceforth to turn out only a minimum of goods for nonmilitary use. For the rest, they were to devote themselves completely to the task of supplying the armed forces. (Human Action, Scholar’s Edition, pp. 821–22)

But did the government need direct control of industry in order to manage the war economy? Mises says no:

The realization of this program did not require the establishment of controls and priorities. If the government had raised all the funds needed for the conduct of war by taxing the citizens and by borrowing from them, everybody would have been forced to cut down his consumption drastically. The entrepreneurs and farmers would have turned toward production for the government because the sale of goods to private citizens would have dropped. The government, now by virtue of the inflow of taxes and borrowed money the biggest buyer on the market, would have been in a position to obtain all it wanted.

Indeed, if it were true that the Roosevelt administration needed to establish controls on steel, rubber, oil, and so forth to ensure an adequate supply for the war effort, then it is hard to see why such controls shouldn’t be maintained in peacetime for equally important tasks — such as providing adequate food and shelter to Americans.

On the other hand, if we can agree that a decentralized market economy, in which individual entrepreneurs strive to earn profits, is the best way to “leverage” our available resources when it comes to cars, radios, and sweaters, then likewise it would be foolish to impose top-down bureaucratic controls when fighting Hitler.

Political officials take their people into unnecessary conflicts all the time.

 

The Draft

The logic of voluntary market arrangements holds in the case of conscription as well. Suppose a foreign nation has amassed millions of soldiers on the border, and is preparing to invade. Wouldn’t even a classical-liberal government have to hold its nose and impose a draft on its citizens, just to deal with this emergency?

The answer is no. To see why, change the example: If a foreign nation drafted millions of its people into working on collectivized farms, would the United States need to do the same, if it wanted to grow more food? Of course not. The way to maximize food production (especially if we care about quality) would be to get the federal government out of agriculture as much as possible.

A similar pattern holds in military struggles. A free society could easily defend itself from, say, two million poorly equipped conscripts with little training, by using only, let’s say, 100,000 elite, volunteer troops supplied with advanced weaponry and vehicles from 400,000 civilians working in factories cranking out helicopters, body armor, tanks, and artillery. Foreign dictators’ reliance on a large labor-to-capital ratio for their military hardly means that is an efficient practice for a freer nation to emulate.

We must always remember that government edicts do not create real resources. All they can do is divert resources into different channels from what the voluntary market process would have produced. Besides being morally abhorrent, slave labor is also incredibly inefficient. A nation relying on involuntary servitude (that is, military conscripts) to fight its wars will not be nearly as effective, other things equal, as a nation relying on free labor — where anyone can accept or reject the terms of employment, or negotiate for a better deal.

Give Peace a Chance

There is a final consideration in favor of reliance on the market and rejection of “emergency” wartime powers for the government. So far, I have been conceding for the sake of argument that the nation ought to be at war; the question was merely how best to wage it. But in reality, political officials take their people into unnecessary conflicts all the time.

One way they get away with it is by hiding the costs of war through monetary inflation while imposing the more visible costs on those with the least political influence. But when a government has to pay for its wars by entering the market and bidding away resources — including labor — from other possible uses, and then presents its citizens with the explicit tax bill, people realize just how expensive the conflict really is. Furthermore, the costs of war fall more evenly on the population, rather than being concentrated on young, able-bodied men (as occurs under a draft).

When it comes to conventional consumer goods, the free-market economy makes the best use of resources by relying on the ingenuity of millions of entrepreneurs rather than the rigid blueprint of a few central planners. The same principles carry over to waging military conflicts. Beyond narrow measures of efficiency, however, a respect for property rights would also force government officials to be more judicious in their use of resources during a war, especially the lives of volunteers, rather than squandering conscripts as cannon fodder.

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Inspectors general seek criminal probe of Hillary emails

Hillary

Hillary Clinton

The Justice Department has been asked to open a criminal investigation to see if Hillary Clinton mishandled sensitive information when she used her private email account while serving as secretary of state.

Two inspectors general for the State Department asked for the investigation, senior government officials told the New York Times. That request comes on the heels of the two inspectors general’s finding that Clinton’s private email account contained “hundreds of potentially classified emails,” the newspaper reported.

It’s not clear if these “potentially classified emails” were clearly marked as classified at the time Clinton either sent or received them, the New York Times reported. She said in March none of the emails she sent or received over her personal account contained classified information.

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Her March statement: “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material. So I’m certainly well aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.”

The Justice Department hasn’t determined if it will open an investigation into Clinton yet.

But the request alone could have an impact on Clinton’s presidential campaign, which has already been dotted by poor poll showings due primarily to trust issues with the voters. Her campaign has also seen a somewhat shocking stall from the rising popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-declared socialist from Vermont who’s been reeling in large crowds on his campaign run for the White House.

The inspectors’ general request comes just a day after a federal judge chided attorneys for the State Department about their perceived stall of several Freedom of Information Act requests from the Associated Press. Some were made four years ago and still haven’t been fulfilled.

“I want to find out what’s been going on over there – I should say, what’s not been going on over there,” said Judge Richard Leon of the United States District Court, Politico reported. “For reasons known only to itself [the State Department] has been, to say the least, recalcitrant in responding.”

Capitol Hill politicians have also sharply criticized the seeming failure of the State Department to provide adequate excuses for not providing subpoenaed documents.

“The State Department has used every excuse to avoid complying with fundamental requests for documents,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, the New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, another Clinton-tied scandal has just loomed. As WND reported, an arms dealer has just accused the Obama administration of protecting Clinton by sending the Department of Justice to prosecute an innocent man.

 

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FBI chief: ISIS recruiting in all 50 states

COmey

FBI Director James Comey discusses terrorist threats in the U.S. during an interview in Aspen with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

James Comey, director of the FBI, warned at an Aspen Security Forum the current breed of ISIS is “not your parents’ al-Qaida,” and Americans need to be on alert: The terror group’s recruiting in all 50 states.

“[This] is not your parents’ al-Qaida,” he said, at the Wednesday evening event reported by the Aspen Times. “It’s a very different model. … What worries me most is that ISIL’s investment in social media, which has been blossoming in the last six to eight weeks in particulare, will cause a significant increase in the number of incidents that we will see. That’s what I worry about all day long.”

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Comey said al Qaida followers used to have to search the social media sites to get news of the terror group’s goings-on. But ISIS has changed that modus operandi, he said.

“ISIL is changing that model entirely because ISIL is buzzing on your hip,” Comey said, referencing smart phones, the Aspen Times reported. “If you want to talk to a terrorist, they’re right there on Twitter Direct Messaging for you to communicate with. … The FBI’s job is to locate the people in the 50 states that are receptive to the ISIL message and stop them from committing domestic terrorism.”

Comey also said “dozens” of Americans between the ages of 18 and 62 have traveled to Mideast regions to join the terror group.

“What ISIL brings to us is a crowd-sourcing of terrorism using social media in a way that al-Qaida never imagined,” he said, Fox 13 Salt Lake City reported.

He said they’re expert at reaching the “troubled souls” and enticing them to join the group, and have spread their messages of terror through every state in the nation.

“Their message,” he said, Fox 13 reported, “is travel to the Caliphate, their so-called Islamic wonder world. Join us here in Iraq or Syria, and if you can’t travel, kill somebody where you are. Kill somebody in uniform, preferably in the military or law enforcement, but just kill somebody.”

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Who Is Building the Private, Peer-to-Peer Marketplace?

By The Freeman

Sam Patterson (sam@samuelrpatterson.com) is an author and technology enthusiast from Virginia. He has written about decentralized technologies such as bitcoin and OpenBazaar. Sam recently cofounded a company called OB1 to help build the decentralized marketplace OpenBazaar.

The Freeman: Your project, OpenBazaar, has been awarded $1 million in seed funding so far. Congratulations. What is it, and what does it do?

Patterson: OpenBazaar is an open source project to create a decentralized marketplace online where anyone in the world can buy or sell any goods or services with anyone else in the world, for free, using bitcoin. A few of the core project members (including myself) recently started a company called OB1, which received the funding in order to hire full-time developers and make OpenBazaar a reality.

Online commerce today is mostly centralized; companies own websites where users visit to buy and sell things. Those companies charge fees, monitor their users’ data, and censor their transactions based on their own rules and on behalf of the government.

OpenBazaar is different. Instead of relying on a centralized third party, trades occur directly between buyers and sellers. Users install peer-to-peer software on their computers, similar to bitcoin or BitTorrent, and this connects them to other users running the same software. They transact in bitcoin. Since there’s no middleman, there are no fees, no collection of data, and no censorship of trade.

The Freeman: Some people will object to OpenBazaar by saying it’s not transparent — that it will help criminals thrive. How do you answer such charges?

Patterson: Some have inaccurately labeled us as an evolved Silk Road — an underground drug marketplace. This is absolutely false, for many reasons. The Silk Road was centralized and run by a small group for profit. It catered to a specific group of people who traded in illicit goods.

In contrast, OpenBazaar is a decentralized marketplace, not run for profit. It doesn’t cater to any group, or any type of trade, but is open for all users to buy and sell anything they want with each other. It’s a much bigger vision than these narrow dark markets.

We don’t know exactly how people will use OpenBazaar to better their lives, but we believe that it will, and we can’t wait to see it happen.

 

We expect that use of OpenBazaar will reflect markets in society. There will be some users who engage in activity that is morally or legally objectionable, but the vast majority of users will be engaging in positive and constructive trade. We don’t know exactly how people will use OpenBazaar to better their lives, but we believe that it will, and we can’t wait to see it happen.

The Freeman: What are the implications of this kind of technology for the world’s poorest people?

Patterson: Most of the existing centralized market platforms that I mentioned earlier don’t focus on the developing world, or even if they do, the payment methods used aren’t accessible for many of the world’s poor. Bitcoin requires no credit checks to use; an Internet connection and computer are all that’s needed. OpenBazaar is the same as bitcoin in this sense. It costs nothing to join and use, and the trade is direct between buyers and sellers; there are no middlemen to take a cut. We hope that by lowering the barriers to entry for online trade, OpenBazaar and bitcoin will bring millions of new users into the online economy.

The Freeman: What are the implications of this kind of technology for most of our readers — that is, wealthier Westerners?

Patterson: Establishing a protocol, client, and network for people to directly engage in trade with each other allows for more efficient transactions. Sellers on eBay who use PayPal regularly pay up to 10 percent fees on each sale. Those are 0 percent on OpenBazaar.

OpenBazaar is also more private. Instead of the centralized platforms getting all the information about your buying or selling habits, now that information is only available to the parties you directly engage with.

Also, if some of your readers are already bitcoin users, OpenBazaar is the first decentralized platform for them to spend their decentralized money. Many value decentralized technology simply because it takes power away from the gatekeepers in our world.

The Freeman: How do you market OpenBazaar? How do you build culture around it?

Patterson: We haven’t needed to market OpenBazaar so far. The bitcoin community is very excited to see it built. Once we look to go beyond bitcoin users and into the broader e-commerce space, then we’ll need to consider how to market ourselves. Likely, it will be around the lack of fees, which is compelling to retailers who have small margins.

Our culture is one that supports free trade and voluntary interactions in society. The ability to engage in trade directly with someone in person is a great thing, and it’s a shame that hasn’t been possible online — until now.

The Freeman: How flexible, robust, and “anti-fragile” is this system — especially with respect to predatory states who will likely try to foil its development?

Patterson: OpenBazaar is very robust, similar in design to bitcoin or BitTorrent. Because it’s run locally on users’ computers, there’s no central point of failure to attack. We don’t anticipate that OpenBazaar will face opposition from governments any more than other online platforms have; they have the same tools at their disposal to go after individual storeowners. But they cannot take down the whole system at once, unlike the existing platforms.

The Freeman: When will OpenBazaar be ready to use?

Patterson: We plan on publishing the first full release in November this year. The code is open source so developers can view it any time at our Github.

The Freeman: Thank you for speaking with us, Sam. 

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You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down

By Lawrence W. Reed

Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.


Great movements are marked by the dedication and accomplishments of steadfast individuals who make the most of every moment, every opportunity, and every available resource. When those great men and women pass from the scene, they leave behind untold numbers of friends and followers who derive comfort from their memory and inspiration from their deeds.

Such a man was James U. Blanchard III, who died on March 20, 1999, at the age of 56.

The causes to which he devoted ceaseless energy and with which his name will always be associated are liberty and sound money. Jim knew that neither is long safe without the other. Few American entrepreneurs in the second half of the 20th century did as much as he did to promote them both. The opening sentence of his family’s formal notice of his passing summed him up well: “James U. Blanchard III was a man who accomplished much against great odds and changed more people’s lives than he ever knew.”

I was privileged to know Jim Blanchard for the last 15 years of his life. For two years, I served as chief economist for his firm. I spoke at many of his conferences. I traveled with him to Brazil, Nicaragua, and Kenya. Though many others knew him better, it didn’t take much acquaintance with him for anyone to marvel at what a man in a wheelchair can get done if he puts his mind to it.

Jim was nearly killed in a tragic automobile accident at the age of 17 and was unable thereafter to walk. But if anything, his handicap only spurred him on.

Not once did I hear Jim bemoan his physical plight. If he talked about it at all, it was to relate how sitting in a wheelchair gave him time to read. In his 20s, he read voraciously. Introduced to the writings of Ayn Rand by a medical student friend, he became an unabashed defender of laissez-faire capitalism. Rand’s influence on Jim is perhaps best exemplified by the name he gave his oldest son: Anthem. Jim also became a devoted reader of the Freeman and of books by FEE’s founder, Leonard Read.

In 1974, Gerald Ford signed a bill that restored the right of Americans to own gold. The real hero of that moment was Jim Blanchard, who had formed the National Committee to Legalize Gold in 1971 and spearheaded a nationwide grassroots campaign. He knew that governments don’t like gold because they can’t print it. He saw gold ownership as a fundamental human right, a hedge against government mismanagement of money, and a first essential step down the long road to monetary integrity.

In 1974, Gerald Ford signed a bill that restored the right of Americans to own gold. The real hero of that moment was Jim Blanchard.

 

True to his spirit, some of Jim’s efforts were dramatic and unconventional. He arranged for a biplane to tow a “Legalize Gold” banner over President Nixon’s 1973 inauguration. He also held press conferences around the country at which he would brandish illegal bars of gold and publicly challenge federal officials to throw him in jail. These and many other stories about Jim’s colorful career can be found in his 1990 autobiography, Confessions of a Gold Bug.

Once gold became legal, Jim held his first annual investment conference in New Orleans. Expecting 250 attendees, he was stunned to see 750 show up. More than 40 years later, Blanchard’s New Orleans Investment Conference carries on and has drawn tens of thousands of individuals from all 50 states and dozens of nations. Investment advice comprised most of the 25 programs Jim assembled, but he always made sure that attendees were provided a hefty dose of sound-money and free-market ideas. His speakers included Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, Robert Bleiberg, Walter Williams, and many other great economists. Ayn Rand’s last public appearance was at a Blanchard conference. (In October 2015, I’ll be speaking again at the conference myself.)

In the meantime, Jim’s original $50 investment to begin a coin business in the 1970s grew into a giant within the industry. When he sold the business 15 years later, it was a $115-million-a-year precious-metals and rare-coin company. He cofounded the Industry Council for Tangible Assets to combat unscrupulous business practices in the coin and bullion industry, and he helped to reverse several burdensome laws and regulations that afflicted American investors.

Jim’s adventurous instincts and love of liberty combined to put him on the front lines of important struggles around the world. On my return in 1986 from visiting with activists in the anti-communist underground in Poland, I went to Jim with a request. I advised him that for $5,000, pro-freedom forces in Warsaw could translate Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose into Polish and then print and distribute hundreds of copies throughout the country. He wrote that check on the spot, and many others for similar causes behind the Iron Curtain. Not content only to fund these worthy endeavors, he often transported illicit, pro-freedom literature himself when he visited communist countries.

One of Jim’s favorite foreign projects was assisting anti-communist rebel forces inside war-torn Mozambique in the 1980s and early 1990s. He once sent a colleague and me on a clandestine journey inside the country to live for two weeks with the rebels in the bush and help to spread a pro-freedom message. Once the war was over and Mozambique adopted policies friendly to private property and free markets, Jim pitched in to assist in reconstruction.

“I remember my father as the bravest and most adventurous person that I have ever known to this day,” Anthem recently told me.

He never let anyone tell him no. He was fearless in his belief in the goodness of the human spirit. He understood that the path to personal betterment is best shepherded by free enterprise, and [he understood] the importance of balance between natural rights and property rights protected by a responsible, accountable, made-as-limited-as-possible government.

If Jim were alive today, he would beam with pride in his son, who carries three famous names: Anthem Hayek Blanchard is founder and president of Anthem Vault, a Nevada-based company pioneering a gold-backed cryptocurrency called HayekGold after Nobel laureate and Austrian economist F.A. Hayek. (Browse through the news items on the company’s web page and you’ll learn more about the currency that wouldn’t even be legal today had it not been for the work of Anthem’s father.)

Anthem says his father taught him “above all else” that

true freedom can only be achieved once the world experiences a Hayekian choice in currency that technologies like bitcoin, HayekGold, and other virtual assets are wonderfully making a rapidly growing reality. I know Pop would be the most excited person in the world about all of these new technology developments enabling Austrian economics to flourish in a modern digital society.

Jim Blanchard overcame personal tragedy to become a powerful figure for liberty and sound money. His indomitable spirit lives on in all those who know that the noble causes to which he devoted his life require both hard work and eternal vigilance.

For further information, see:

  • Video from FreedomFest: Remembering James U. Blanchard III with Lawrence Reed
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We Hide Our Faces from the Wind

By William Kelley Woolfitt

If the Pères Blancs send money,
I will ransom more slaves. Jean, now free,
believes that the wind pursues him;  he crouches
in burrows, old wells. We plug our ears

when the wind sputters and moans. I hear
the panting of boys with bands of scar
and bruise on their backs, two colors of tattoo.
Jean says the wind of harmattan burns

his ankles, his neck. The wind of simoom
flings sand at our hut, and scours the mothers
who lose their babies to thieves, and hardens
their tears to shards of salt, slivers of glass.